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How Walt Disney Unknowingly Helped His Housekeeper Become a Multi-Millionaire

Thelma Pearl Howard’s biggest achievement is getting to work for the famous Walt Disney and his family. That was what everyone believed before a surprising discovery was made after she passed away at 79 years old.

During the reading of her last will and testament, Howard’s family was shocked to find out that the housekeeper died a multi-millionaire.

Let’s find out the inspiring story about how she secretly built an impressive fortune on a housekeeper’s salary.

Growing up Poor

Zillow — Disney’s former estate is currently valued at $90 million

Growing up, money was always hard to come by for Howard and her family of farmers from Idaho. She had to drop out of college during her freshman year because she could no longer afford to pay for her tuition.

After moving to Los Angeles, she began working a variety of jobs, sometimes even three at a time, to make a living. Howard reportedly took jobs as a part-time secretary, cleaning houses and pouring drinks at a soda fountain.

It was in her mid-’30s that she was hired to be a live-in housekeeper at the Disney family’s mansion in Holmby Hills. Given her background, Howard’s new home was a shock to her.

Clicking with the Disneys

Find a Grave and Bettman/Corbis — Howard (left) took care of Disney’s two daughters

Her presence in the household was a welcome one though as Disney reportedly had trouble finding a housekeeper that would get along well with his family.

Unlike the previous housekeepers, Howard clicked with Disney’s children: Diane and Sharon. The three of them would often bond while the housekeeper was in the kitchen preparing three-course meals every night.

Howard was also known to keep the fridge regularly stocked with Disney’s favorite snack: hot dogs. Over the course of the three decades she spent working for the household, she became almost a part of the family.

Disney himself reportedly described the housekeeper as the ‘real-life Mary Poppins’.

Unique Work Perk

photo-denver/Shutterstock — The Walt Disney Company currently has a market cap of over $174 billion

Howard was paid a salary that was a little more than the average rate for housekeepers at the time. So, how did she manage to build such an impressive fortune?

It’s all thanks to the Christmas and birthday bonus Disney would give her. Apparently, the animation pioneer would gift her Disney company stock on these occasions every year.

She never sold any of the shares she received throughout her lifetime and actually used her own money to buy some more on her own.

With the success of the company, Howard’s stock portfolio grew as well. By the ‘90s, her 193,000 shares were valued at an impressive $9.5 million.

Half of Howard’s fortune was left to her disabled son while the other was used to fund a foundation in her name.

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