Les always left plenty of room on the stage


POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Les Keiter was undeniably larger than life.

Big-time, having performed his craft on the biggest stages in the biggest cities.

This man was on a first-name basis with Cassius and Sonny, Casey and Yogi.

He covered the Giants, and that made him a titan himself.

Heck, on the set of 'Hawaii Five-0,' he was probably the only one who could've gotten away with Lording it over Jack. He was, after all, The General, the man who scooped Howard Cosell.

But in the 28 years I knew him, I never saw Les Keiter big-time anybody. Climbing to the top of the heap in Philadelphia and New York didn't turn the boy from Seattle into a pushy jerk.

So this whole “;General”; nickname thing ... Yes, appropriate because of his booming, clear voice and commanding presence. But in another way, it didn't fit at all—I never saw him order around or belittle anyone.

Quite the opposite, in fact. He brought people up to his level, just by the way he spoke to them: ”;HOW YA DOIN', KID!”;

Even if it hurt your ears, or you didn't like being called “;kid,”; this greeting was magic coming from Les. It was both somehow surreal and genuine. He managed to put me at ease and in awe of him at the same time.

LET'S NOT FORGET that Les reinvented himself, several times. Some know him best for his baseball re-creates, where his tools were a scorebook and a wooden hammer.

For quite a few years, after stepping down as KHON-2 sports director, Keiter was to Hawaii sports what Eric Sevareid was to national news—an astute and peerless commentator.

Chuck Parker, now one of our assistant city editors, worked with Keiter during these later TV years. Les was always a gentleman and a professional, Chuck recalls. He never got impatient if a young director wanted another take.

He remained busy following retirement as the PR man for Aloha Stadium. This was far from a do-nothing job, and this stage of his career may be most telling about his character. Forget all the Halls of Fame; the Stadium Stars program is the most heart-warming chapter of his legacy. Keiter was rightfully proud of giving aspiring broadcasters opportunities they'd never have had without him. He respected and nurtured their dreams, treating it more like a school for future pros than a fantasy camp for wannabes.

LES WAS OUR go-to guy at the paper when we wanted to put something in perspective. When Hawaii played Boise State in the Sugar Bowl season, we quoted him saying it was the biggest sports event in state history. Anyone else, and it would've been, “;How does he know?”;

His wife, Lila, shared his love for sports. As his eyesight diminished, she read the sports section to him. And at games, she provided play-by-play for the man who had been among the greatest at it.

Keiter was never stuffy or uptight, and that's why he thrived in Hawaii as well as he did on the east coast. Les' attitude toward sports and life was, “;Hey, this is a great party, ain't it kid? Hop on for the ride!”;

Even the lowliest private could hang out with him in the officers' club.

At ease, General.