If you’re a fan of the Walt Disney Company’s lore and history, you owe a debt to Dave Smith.

Smith, the first-ever archivist at the Walt Disney Company and founder of the Walt Disney Archives, died Friday at the age of 78 in Burbank, Calif.

His career with the company began in 1970, when he was hired by Walt Disney’s brother and company co-founder, Roy O. Disney. His first task was to catalogue every item in Walt’s office. which had been left largely untouched four years after his death.

Smith grew his one-man department into “a model among corporate archives,” according to the company, becoming one of the ultimate authorities on all things Disney, including its theme parks.

“I’m deeply saddened to learn of Dave Smith’s passing,” said Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger. “He was the unsung hero of Disney’s history who, as our first archivist, spent 40 years rescuing countless documents and artifacts from obscurity, investing endless hours restoring and preserving these priceless pieces of our legacy, and putting them in context to tell our story. Dave was a true Disney Legend, and we are indebted to him for building such an enduring, tangible connection to our past that continues to inspire our future.”

In 2007, Smith was named a Disney Legend, an award reserved for individuals who made major contributions to the company. He retired in 2010.

Smith’s work included authoring several books on the company’s history, such as “Disney: The First 100 Years,” and “The Quotable Walt Disney.” He interacted with fans in his long-running “Ask Dave” column answering their questions about Disney history.

The fruits of Smith’s labor in preserving and documenting the company’s long history can be seen in the D23 Disney fan club, its biennial expo and the large online communities dedicated to Disney films, television and theme parks.

“The Disney fanatics really owe him a great thank you for the dedication that he had to Walt’s legacy and making sure that was put in order for posterity,” said Duncan Dickson, a former Disney executive and associate professor at the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

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