Remembering A Hero And Mentor
Wednesday - April 22, 2009
For the past year I’ve had the opportunity to share weekly stories from our ocean playground. The Pacific Ocean is something I treasure deeply. But this week I felt it was important to share the story of another Island treasure - my mentor and hero, Les Keiter.
“The General” died of natural causes just before the 5 p.m. news on April 14. I was on the set at KHON2 when Joe Moore entered the studio during the final commercial break with a look on his face that said it all. His voice quivered. Les had just died. Our hero was gone.
Our newsroom was stunned, but we got through the night. Sports director Kanoa Leahey said it best: “The General would understand the show must go on.”
News of his death spread rapidly across the state as friends and former colleagues reminisced as we traded our favorite Keiter stories. We laughed and we cried, then we cried again.
My story is very personal. It was 1989. After working behind the scenes at KHON sports for four years, I decided it was time to move on. I needed to support my young family. I was going to be a cop. I remember walking into the sports office on a Friday afternoon. The General was preparing for the 6 o’clock sportscast when I walked in sporting a new crew cut.
“Looks like you’re saying goodbye, kid,” he said. He called everybody kid. I told him he was right, that I was entering the police force. He looked up and firmly stated with that golden voice: “You’re not done here, kid. Come back Monday and we’ll get their attention!”
I did, and I was hired several days later. The General believed in me even when I didn’t, and for that I’m forever grateful.
Les Keiter touched thousands of other lives during his 50-plus years behind the microphone. His face and voice were recognized from San Francisco to Philadelphia to New York.
He was a part of some of the biggest moments in sports history: from world championship boxing to the NFL, NBA and major league baseball.
He was the voice of the Knicks in the late ‘50s and covered the 1968 Olympic games. He was famous for his re-creations of Islander road games, an artist when it came to sports phrases.
“He could take you to a ballpark thousands of miles away and you could smell the popcorn and hear the peanut vendors,” says former KHON colleague Jai Cunningham.
Keiter first worked in the Islands in the late ‘60s and then returned in 1970 and started doing sports at KHON in 1973. In 1981, he joined Joe Moore and the duo quickly became Hawaii’s most-watched news team. In fact, it was Moore who came up with Les’s nickname, “The General,” after both had military roles in a Hawaii Five-O episode.
“I played an Army captain and he an Army general, and as a term of respect when I saw him on the street I would say, ‘Hey, General,’” recalls Moore. “Then, years later, when we were together at KHON, one night I called him General on the air and it stuck. He was truly the General of Hawaii sports.”
Joe is right. The General retired from KHON in 1994, then served eight years as Aloha Stadium spokesman. He touched even more lives there with his Stadium Stars program.
Despite his many accomplishments, Keiter was a family man first. He and his lifelong partner Lila have five children and several grandchildren. Lila and several family members were at his bedside at Castle medical center when he died.
The General would have turned 90 years old April 27.
For those who were fortunate to be touched by Keiter, consider yourself blessed. I do.
Aloha, General, and thank you.
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