Les Read, former Baxter Estate mayor and HBO pioneer, dies at 82

Les Read, former Baxter Estate mayor and HBO pioneer, dies at 82
Leslie Read during his time with HBO. (Courtesy of the Cable Center)

Leslie Read, the former mayor of Baxter Estates and a longtime resident of the village, died on June 28. He was 82.

He really was a gentleman and was always pleasant to residents,” said current Mayor Nora Haagenson. “He always had a smile and did a lot to give back to the village.”

In addition to his civic work in Baxter Estates, Read had a long career in television that in his early days included holding the teleprompter for Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon.

He later joined Home Box Office in its years and earned the name “Mr. HBO” during a 25-year career in which he rose to vice president and became well known name in the cable industry.

Read was born in Mineola on Sept. 12, 1935, the son of Mable Scott Read and Charles Read.

In an interview Read had with the Cable Center in 1990, Read said his parents were “both kind of new in this country” having emigrated from England.

Charles Read owned several service stations around Great Neck, where Les grew up.

Leslie Read graduated from Great Neck High School in 1953 and went first to Nichols Junior College and then transferred to Syracuse University, where he majored in Radio, Television, and Broadcasting and was a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

After graduating, he got his first job as a page at NBC.

“I walked in and said to the personnel department, ‘What is it I’m going to be, a page or a guide?'” he recalled in 1990. “The lady looked at me and said, ‘You mean you don’t want to be the president?’ I said, ‘Well, I’ll work up to that.'”

Among his jobs were to keep the teleprompters in sync for Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson — along with keeping their cocktail glasses filled. His technical work led to him getting a job with TelePrompter in the late 1950s.

During his 15 successful years with TelePromptor, Read broke into the nascent business of cable television.

He left the company in 1974 to join Home Box Office, which had only begun broadcasting two years prior. Read started as manager of affiliate development, according to a Multichannel News report.

Eventually, he became director of national accounts and was named vice president in 1998, a position he held until his retirement in 2001.

Read was well known in the industry for his work. He was named a Cable TV Pioneer and served as the ambassador for the nonprofit group Cable Center, a position he took in 2002.

“Les made us all smile,” Jana Henthorn, the president and CEO of The Cable Center, said in a statement. “He was immensely proud of the cable industry and his role in it.

He knew everyone, had more stories than Mark Twain, and a great love for The Cable Center. Not only was he our official Ambassador, he was one of our great champions.”

In Port Washington, though, where he spent the last four decades of his life, Read was known as the friendly mayor of Baxter Estates. He served in the position from 1983 to 1999, all while helping to run HBO as well.

“I’ve had older residents reach out to me, and the one thing that always stuck out to them was how much he gave back to the community,” Haagenson said. “He really loved this village.

The flag at Village Hall was flown at half staff in his honor.

Read is survived by his sister Barbra Saunders; his wife, Anne; his children Scott, Elizabeth, Charles, and Jennifer; and 10 grandchildren, according to a Great Neck Record report. A service in celebration of Read’s life will be held on July 14 at St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Port Washington. The family has requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to either St. Stephens Church or St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn.

Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.

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