Beloved Imagineer Joe Rohde Announces Retirement

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disney imagineer joe rohde

Credit: Disney

It appears that Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde, the man responsible for Disney’s Animal Kingdom among other projects, has just announced his retirement. His last day at Walt Disney Imagineering will be on January 4, 2021.

The Imagineer shared a statement on his Instagram:

I’m sure by now many of you have come across the news that I am retiring from Walt Disney Imagineering. It has been 40 years since I stepped foot in the door at age 25, not knowing anything about theme parks, Disney, or what it meant to work for a big company.

Every day of my life since then has been a learning experience. I’m very glad to have had that opportunity, and proud of the work that has been done, not just by me, but by all my fellow Imagineers, and especially those who worked by my side over the decades.

But 40 years is a long time, and this strange quiet time seems like a great opportunity to slip away without too much disruption. If I wait, I will once again be in the middle of another huge project and by the time that is done, I would be truly old. I’m not that old yet and there are things I want to do that cannot be done here.

We encourage a culture of storytellers, not just amongst ourselves but among our guests and our fans, and because of this, there is a strong temptation to take this moment and turn it into a story. But what story? I think it’s a coming of age story. I started at Disney as a child, and I learned almost all my life lessons there, developed my confidence, recognized my skills and weaknesses, and went on to work with both… and do what could be done. I could stay forever, but that is like remaining in another kind of womb. I want to see what a grown man might be able to do on his own.

This site here is not really for Disney. It’s for us. I imagine that there are many of you who I will be sad that I will no longer be a daily part of the Disney company, and there will be some of you who will drift away and no longer follow my ruminations because they feel they aren’t relevant.

But I will still be here. And I will still be thinking about things, and doing things, and talking about things… Because that’s kind of what I do. I mentioned in my departure note and I will mention here again the tremendous debt that I owe to our guests and our fans who have been so generous. Working as an Imagineer has made me a good designer, but it is all of you who have made me a better person.

The news comes from Imagineer Zach Riddley who posted the following on his Instagram page:

Congratulations to my friend and colleague @JoeRohde on his announcement to retire after an illustrious 40-year career with Walt Disney Imagineering! Joe has spent his career mentoring and advising all of those he works with and I know that he’ll continue to do that until Jan. 4 and beyond. I look forward to all the adventures you have ahead Joe!

Bob Weis, President of Walt Disney Imagineering, also shared his own tribute saying:

Joe Rohde is a real life adventurer—in life, in art, and in work. Whether trekking across the mountains of Mongolia on an expedition to raise awareness for snow leopard conservation, or leading project teams from Animal Kingdom to Aulani to Pandora, Joe fully embodies the true spirit of adventure and exploration. He approaches these experiences, not as a tourist, but with curiosity, respect, and purpose.

Joe has committed forty years to bringing dynamic, inventive, and diverse projects to Disney parks. While he is widely renowned for his unmatched expertise across numerous creative disciplines, he’s also an expert in every facet of leading and managing our projects, from setting the vision to feasibility, design and execution. His unyielding commitment to excellence across all aspects of projects, and his demand for authenticity and including diverse, indigenous cultures in design and production, are hallmarks of his projects and what differentiate them from all others.⁣⁣

Today, Joe announced his plans to retire from the company, and while I respect and accept his decision, I know he will remain part of our Imagineering family, a mentor to our current and future generation, and certainly the best example to our worldwide audience of what it is to be an Imagineer.

Related: “Life is All Around You”: Animal Kingdom Creator Joe Rohde Shares Earth Day Message

Rohde played an instrumental role in the creation of Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort, doing everything he could to incorporate learning and real conservation efforts into the theme park experience, from the practical Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction on the Harambe Wildlife Reserve to the fantastical realms of Pandora: The World of Avatar, and Expedition Everest. He first came to Walt Disney Imagineering during the construction of EPCOT, and his latest big project appeared to be the creation of Disney Cruise Line’s second “private island” destination, Lighthouse Point in the Bahamas. He also had a hand in designing the Disney Vacation the Adventurers Club which was a nightclub-theatrical experience at the now-shuttered Downtown Disney’s Pleasure Island.

Walt Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde
Credit: D23

We at Inside the Magic have always been an admirer of Rohde’s work in the parks as well as the resorts like Aulani, and he will be greatly missed. But we will hopefully continue to see his influence on the Disney Parks for some time to come. We know that Imagineer Tony Baxter, though retired, is returning to work on the Splash Mountain re-theme. So, hopefully, a project will return to where Rohde can bring his guidance and influence once again

Regardless we are forever grateful for what Joe has brought to the theme parks. We wish him a happy retirement and safe travels on all of his adventures yet to come!

What is your favorite Joe Rodhe attraction? Let us know in the comments!

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