Not many employees can brag about dropping a glass of iced tea into the lap of their boss and remaining gainfully employed to tell about it. That is exactly what happened some 45 years ago at the Contemporary Hotel at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida when Cast Member Barbara Lashley had the pleasure of waiting on a table of Walt Disney Company executives including Card Walker, Donn Tatum and Roy Disney, brother of Walt Disney.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Lashley now married and known as Bobbi Ferrilli recounts. “He was talking with his hands and explaining something. I was trying to serve him his iced tea, and his hands were moving. His hand went up and the glass fell into his lap.” Not certain if it was her Southwest Philly brashness or sheer nerves, Ferrilli told Disney, “but your hands wouldn't stop moving. I'm so sorry, and I just walked away and started crying,” thinking that she was about to be fired. However, Disney instructed the restaurant manager to find the waitress and return to the table so he could apologize. “You are absolutely correct,” Disney confessed. “I was talking with my hands and not paying attention. You are perfectly fine, just get me a napkin.” Ferrilli got him a napkin which he placed on his lap and continued talking to the Disney executives seated with him at the table.
What started out as a personal journey for a Southwest Philadelphia girl to become a flight attendant resulted in a 45-year career at the “Most Magical Place on Earth.” As the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida marks its 45th birthday, Bobbi Ferrilli was there to experience it all first hand. Hired just days before the resort opened on October 1st, 1971, the Saint Leonard's Academy graduate has had a ringside seat to all the magic that is Disney.
When Bobbi moved to Miami Beach in 1969 she was 19 and landed a job at the Eden Roc Hotel. She had only one goal in mind and that was to become an airline stewardess. She never heard of Orlando while she waited on customers at the Eden Roc, but that all changed when a business executive by the name of Bill Brickman walked into the cafeteria at the hotel. “I guess he was there on some business,” Ferrilli observes, “and the next thing I know he gave me his business card and said 'you are a person that we would love to work at Disney.'” Brickman extended an invitation to Ferrilli to travel to Orlando to interview for a position.
“Orlando? Where is Orlando?” the inquisitive Ferrilli asked. Brickman instructed her to take the Florida turnpike north and drive three-and-a-half hours until you get to “Yeehaw Junction, the next exit will be Orlando,” the Disney recruiter directed. The executive advised her to be prepared to spend the night because the interview process would last all day. (By the way, there really is a Yeehaw Junction located in Osceola County, about 30 miles west of Vero Beach and 30 miles north of Lake Okeechobee.)
Ferrilli recalls the application process entailed applicants going from “trailer to trailer to trailer to trailer” to interview. “You had to go to the first trailer and they would look you up and down to see if you met their criteria. And then if you passed, you went to the next trailer.” Job applicants also had to take a math test, a spelling test as well as a physical. Rounding out the process was getting photographed and finger-printed making her feel as if she was applying for a government job or a position with the CIA.
“It was very strict and if you passed everything you went in for your two-hour formal interview,” Bobbi remembers. She interviewed with the gentleman that first handed her his business card at the Eden Roc and, after the interview, he offered Bobbi a position at the Contemporary Hotel. That was on September 27, 1971 and the Contemporary was still in the final stages of construction. Excited about the job but still reluctant to accept, she phoned her father in Philadelphia to ask his opinion. He recommended that she take the job at Disney for a year and then pursue her desire to fly the friendly skies.
As construction workers plied their talents to complete the entire Walt Disney World Resort in time for opening day, Bobbi and her other Contemporary Hotel cast-mates had to train at the Hilton Hotel on International Drive.
She was one of three-thousand Cast Members hired for opening day in 1971. Today only 80 of those opening day Cast Members are still on the job at Walt Disney World.
Her career at Disney has come full-circle in her 45-year tenure at Disney World. First hired as a cocktail waitress at the Contemporary, she later moved to Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) where she waited on guests at Cap'N Jack's Restaurant and has book-ended her tenure back at the Contemporary at Chef Mickey's.
During that time, she has waited on the famous and not so famous and has enjoyed meeting and maintaining friendships with many of her guests over the years. Besides the Roy Disney incident, she vividly recalls an opening gala where hundreds of invited guests from the worlds of government, business and entertainment attended and she says she had the best table in the room. “I was in heaven,” as Bobbi remembers actors Jimmy Stewart, Fred MacMurry and Walter Brennan were seated at her station along with actress Agnes Moorehead.
“Stewart asked for a bottle of ketchup,” Bobbi says adding that he did not want it in a special cruet. “I just like the bottle of ketchup,” Ferrilli recalls the actor telling her “because I like to pop it from the back because I like ketchup on my steak,” which along with lobster was the entree' of the evening.
Leading up to the October 1st anniversary, it was an action-packed week for Bobbi and the other Disney Cast Members celebrating 45 years at the Magic Kingdom. Bobbi and a co-worker at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary were surprised by fellow Cast Members last Tuesday for their tenure followed by a special breakfast and photo shoot at Cinderella Castle on Wednesday and a special presentation at the California Grill atop the Contemporary on Thursday.
As pixie dust sprinkles the 45th anniversary celebration of the Magic Kingdom at the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida, everyone will likely reflect on their fondest memory. For Bobbi Ferrilli, she has had her full share of remembrances, but concedes she will not make it to her 50th anniversary. All those years on her feet waiting on guests have taken their toll on her. She is scheduled to have foot surgery in December and then is expected to retire next year. But she is not walking away sad but rather thankful for what she calls “an incredible journey.”
“Everyone has been wonderful to me and they've always treated me with respect. I have enjoyed the guests. I've made friends throughout the world and the country. It has been a great, great experience for me.” Bobbi looks forward to enjoying her retirement and reflecting on her time at the “Most Magical Place on Earth.”