SAN DIEGO --
Henry "Hank" Rieger, a journalist-turned television industry pioneer, passed away quietly on March 5, 2014 in Oceanside, CA at the age of 95.
Hank's professional life in communications began in the days of the Teletype and spanned print, broadcast, and cable TV media. Raised in Phoenix, and drafted into the Army in World War II, Hank was assigned to a horse cavalry unit. Unable to ride but a fluent typist, he became company clerk. He later served in intelligence operations in the Pacific, leaving the military as a Major.
In early 1946, he began unpaid work for United Press (UPI) in San Francisco, 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, he spent a year as press attache for the US consul general in Singapore. He returned to UPI, ultimately heading up news operations at UPI headquarters in New York.
In 1965, Hank returned to California, and 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,
I Spy, Star Trek, and Laugh In. He directed publicity efforts for the 1972 move of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson from New York to Los Angeles and toured 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 an ill-funded organization with the far-fetched idea of a 24-hour-a-day cable TV sports network: ESPN. Although Hank had many clients, his relationship with ESPN 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 (ATAS), 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 loved sports and welcomed any chance to indulge this passion - from the press box at Dodger Stadium to the Colosseum in Rome, where he led 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. He was an adjunct faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism for more than 20 years. 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 was predeceased in 2013 by his beloved wife of 65 years, Deborah A. (Hays) Rieger. He is survived by his sister, Ruth (John) Lepick of Long Beach, CA; his niece Julie (David) Burns of San Francisco; and his cousins JoAnn St. Claire of Westlake Village, CA; Ann Marie Carr of Tempe, Arizona; and Mary (Ted) Weeks, of Crystal Bay, NV.
The family thanks Hank's many friends, colleagues and the staff at Aegis Shadowridge in Oceanside -- especially John Carpentier, director, and Jennifer, Hank's special angel.
Donations in Hank's memory may be made 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 U-T San Diego from Mar. 9 to Mar. 11, 2014