Tom Garrison

April 5, 1938 - July 22, 2022
Tom  Garrison

Beloved trickster, joke teller, loving partner, devoted Christian, dedicated father, avid golfer, and Disney legend Tom Garrison died due to complications from COVID on July 22, 2022.

Born April 5, 1938, in Centralia, Illinois, Tom graduated from Northwestern University in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in Communications. Tom married his college sweetheart Penny Parker Garrison that same year and moved to Burbank, California to start their lives together.

Tom’s auspicious, decades-long career at Disney began in the mailroom. There, among many other company pioneers and luminaries, Tom met Walt Disney himself. Tom moved from the mailroom to Publicity and then on to Disneyland’s Operations and Entertainment divisions. In 1970, Tom was appointed to a special group of young executives who would serve as the opening team for Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.

That pivotal turn in Tom’s career path took him, Penny, and their young daughters Kathryn (5) and Kristin (3) all the way across the country, from the mid-sized city of Burbank to the very small town of Windermere, Florida. In 1971, soon after their arrival, his son Richard was born.

After serving as Area Manager and then Manager of Operations at the Magic Kingdom, Tom was tapped in 1981 to become Director of Marketing Administration, a role in which he helped shape the grand opening plan for Epcot Center. After 32 years with the company, Tom retired in 1994.

A recent Facebook post announcing Tom’s death to those who worked at Disney in the 70s resulted in an outpouring of funny, touching messages and remembrances. He had “a tough exterior when needed and a gregarious smile that welcomed you in,” he was “the straightest of shooters,” a “fun-loving leader,” “one of a kind mentor” and “one of the great people who made Disney great.”

His family particularly loves this story, which captures the essence of who he was:

“The first time I met Tom, I was a brand new ticket seller, selling tickets to resort guests at the Magic Kingdom entrance for the Night of Joy! I had a line of guests and this strange hand slid under the window and tried to grab my change fund. I freaked, and we ended up with change everywhere. Tom introduced himself, approved comp tickets for the 3 parties in line, and helped me pick up the coins. He said ‘let that be a lesson to you,’ and then gave me $2 in case I didn’t balance.”

Tom’s first priority was always his family. His children knew to follow him no matter where he was going because that’s where the fun would be. He taught them the joy of taking back roads, old school jazz, bad jokes, and helping others, especially those standing on the periphery. He shared with them his love of James Bond and John Wayne movies and loved to belt out “Climb Every Mountain” with tears in his eyes. Tom gave his children perspective (“In a hundred years it won’t make any difference”) and called all of their female friends Mary Margaret. He provided for them so well, could imitate Donald Duck’s voice, and had a sneeze that startled anyone in its vicinity.

Tom centered his family’s life in Florida around the Church of the Messiah. He was a ceaseless volunteer in his community and had special affection for the Edgewood Children’s Ranch in Orlando, where he served as Chairman of the Board.

In retirement, Tom and Penny moved to Hendersonville, NC, in 2006. They became active members of St. James Episcopal Church and the Hendersonville Country Club where Tom played golf as often as he could, as long as he was able. They loved both communities where they established roots, forming friendships and connections that sustained them and brought them so much joy.

Penny, Tom’s wife of 52 years, passed away in 2014 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. He was blessed to fall in love a second time with Bette Carter, sharing seven wonderful years together in Hendersonville.

Tom is survived by Bette Carter and his children Kathryn Garrison, Kristin Garrison (Shannon Zimmerman), Richard Garrison (Cheri Garrison), and his grandchildren Finn, Lotus, Penny Lou, Lola, Zoey, and Ezra.

Lastly, a question Tom asked every single person he ever met, including the nurses in the ER where he spent his last hours: “If it takes a chicken a day and a half to lay an egg and a half how long does it take a chicken to lay an egg?”

Arrangements: There is a memorial service at St. James Episcopal Church in Hendersonville, August 6th at 1pm. There will be a burial service in Winter Garden, FL – TBA.

In lieu of flowers, please consider donations to Cure Alzheimer’s Fund


Memorial Service

Saturday, August 6, 2022
1:00 PM

St. James Episcopal Church - Directions
766 N. Main Street
Hendersonville, NC 28791

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  • August 04, 2022
    Jerry Meier says:
    Tom was a dear friend and client for many years. I treasure the relationship.

  • July 31, 2022
    Tom Nabbe says:
    I worked for Tom at Walt Disney World. He was one of the good guys. Tom's passing will be a loss to everyone who knew him and worked with him through the years. May he Rest In Peace.