Hank Rieger (1918 - 2014)

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September 20, 1918 - March 5, 2014 Henry "Hank" Rieger, a journalist-turned television industry pioneer and former President of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, passed away quietly on March 5, 2014 in Oceanside, CA at the age of 95. Hank considered himself a native of Phoenix, AZ, though born September 20, 1918, in Kansas City, MO, where his family was visiting. He returned to Phoenix shortly after his birth, when his mother was healthy enough to travel, and always called it home. Hank's professional life in communications began in the days of the Teletype and spanned print, broadcast, and cable TV media. Drafted into the Army in World War II, he was assigned to a horse cavalry unit at Fort Bliss, TX. Unable to ride but a fluent typist, he became company clerk. Later in the war, he served in intelligence operations in the Pacific. Beginning as a Private, Hank left the military as a Major. In early 1946, while finishing his tour of duty in San Francisco, he began unpaid work for United Press (UPI), which led to a paid position on the night shift. Hank spent over 20 years with UPI, serving as Bureau Chief in Phoenix, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. In 1953, Hank took a one-year leave of absence to serve as press attaché for the US consul general in Singapore. He returned to the West Coast and to UPI, later moving to New York to head up news operations at UPI headquarters. In 1965 the tidal pull of the West Coast lured Hank back to California, where he moved from print to television at NBC, ultimately working as Vice President for Corporate Press Relations. During his 15 years with NBC, he led publicity efforts for such landmark television programs as Bonanza (NBC's first show in color), I Spy, The Monkees, Star Trek, Laugh In and Sanford and Son. He also directed publicity efforts for the 1972 move of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from New York to Los Angeles. One of the highlights of his years at NBC was touring with Bob Hope to entertain members of the US armed services serving overseas. Part of the effort to bring the 1984 Summer Olympics to Los Angeles, Hank briefly worked as Communications Director for the LA Olympics Organizing Committee. He left to establish his own public relations business. Within weeks, Chet Simmons who had run the sports division at NBC, called Hank, having heard he was seeking clients. In 1979, Simmons had surprised the sports media world by leaving NBC to lead a fledgling, ill-funded organization with the far-fetched idea of a 24-hour-a-day cable TV sports network. It was ESPN. Although Hank had many clients, his relationship with ESPN and its communications department is one that was special and continued to his final days. Hank helped to advance many of the television institutions that continue to thrive today, including the Television Academy, the Emmy Awards, and ESPN. During his nearly 40 years of association with the Television Academy, he served as President and as founding publisher and longtime editor of Emmy Magazine. In 1994, Hank was honored with the Television Academy's Syd Cassyd Award, in recognition of his long and distinguished service. Hank always enjoyed sports and welcomed any chance to indulge this passion - from the press box at Chavez Ravine to the Colosseum in Rome, where he was in charge of UPI's coverage of the 1960 Olympics. As Vice President of the Special Olympics of California in the late 1960s and 1970s he enjoyed the rewards of bringing the experience of athletic achievement to children who otherwise might never know the thrill of competition. Hank attended the University of Arizona and USC, where he was an adjunct faculty member - and avid USC Trojans supporter - at the School of Journalism for more than 20 years. He was predeceased in 2013 by his beloved wife of 65 years, Deborah A. (Hays) Rieger. Hank was a Master Mason at the Glendale Lodge #368, a member of the Al Malaikah Shriners, Los Angeles, and a 32 degree member of the Scottish Rite at the Valley of Los Angeles. Hank is survived by his sister, Ruth (John) Lepick of Long Beach, Calif.; his niece Julie (David) Burns of San Francisco; and his cousins JoAnn St. Claire of Westlake Village, Calif.; Ann Marie Carr of Tempe, Arizona; and Mary (Ted) Weeks, of Crystal Bay, Nev. The family wishes to express their gratitude to Hank's many friends and colleagues, and to the staff at Aegis Shadowridge in Oceanside - especially to John Carpentier, director, and to Jennifer, who has been an angel to Hank. Hank mentored countless students and professionals throughout his career. In that spirit, the family urges those who wish to honor his memory to make a donation referencing his name to the Television Academy Foundation, http://www.emmysfoundation.org/ or to the USC Annenberg School of Communication, 3502 Watt Way, Suite 304, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0281 or https://giveto.usc.edu/?fundid=14&. In accordance with his wishes, Hank's ashes will be scattered at sea. A memorial will be scheduled for a future date.
Published in the Los Angeles Times from Mar. 8 to Mar. 9, 2014
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