Denver -- A crowd of roughly 2,000 people braved alate-winter snowstorm to pay their respects to cable legend Bill Daniels at a memorialservice here last week.
A steady parade of former employees, business associates,family members and cable-industry dignitaries took the podium at the Magness Arena at theUniversity of Denver to share their thoughts and a few personal stories about Daniels, whodied March 7 after a long bout with respiratory disease.
Although Daniels was one of the pioneers of the industry --first as a system operator and later as the head of one of the premier cable brokerages inthe country, Daniels & Associates -- most of the speakers at the service reflected onhow he affected them personally, from the many encouraging notes he passed to employeesand business associates over the years to his charitable contributions and his overallphilosophy of life.
About 3,000 mourners were expected at the memorial services-- the first of three for Daniels, with others scheduled for Hobbs, N.M., last Friday andCarlsbad, Calif., March 24. But the turnout was a little light because of a snowstorm thatmade traveling to the site difficult.
That weather also caused the cancellation of a plannedflyover by U.S. Navy vintage World War II aircraft -- Daniels was a decorated Navy fighterpilot in World War II.
Family members, friends, business associates and currentand former employees remembered Daniels as a generous man, loyal to a fault, who wasalways looking to help out the little guy.
Gretchen Bunn, a former Daniels & Associates employeewho started in 1971 as an accountant, remembered her first meeting with him.
"On my second day, I cornered him and quizzed him onone of his expense reports," she told the audience. "I think at the beginning, Iwas a project for Bill -- I lived downtown at the bowery, I dressed very funny, Iwasn't a particularly gifted accountant and, worse yet, I was a Democrat. But throughthe years, we forged an incredible friendship and love that will sustain me for the restof my life."
Later, after the service, Bunn -- who served as programmingdirector for Daniels' cable systems and later went on to be programming director ofPrime Sports Network, one of the first regional sports networks Daniels sold to Fox Sports-- said Daniels was "a real person. He wasn't a saint -- he was a real humanbeing."
She added that once she began working for other people, theDaniels way of doing business was ingrained in her personal philosophy. "When I wentto work for Fox and we would negotiate deals, I told them first, 'I'm from theBill Daniels school: We treat people right,'" she said.
Most of the speakers at the service characterized Danielsas a man with a strong commitment to friends and family.
Diane Denish, Daniels' niece and New Mexico stateDemocratic chairwoman, said her uncle was a man to be bragged about. "He wasn'ta family man in the traditional sense, but his sense of family was unparalleled," sheadded.
Daniels also had a strong sense of where he came from -- hewas born during the depression, and he had to go to work at an early age, as did hisbrother, Jack, to help support the family.
He regularly gave to charities -- many times anonymously --and he left the bulk of his $1.2 billion fortune to the Daniels Foundation, now thelargest private foundation in Colorado. But much of Daniels' charity was done behindthe scenes.
"Airline tickets would appear mysteriously on the deskof someone with a family crisis. Medical bills got paid, tuition got paid, all withoutcredit," said another longtime employee, Erika Shafer.
But Daniels' charity was not limited to employees orbusiness associates. Stepson Mitchell Fox remembered how after reading a story in thelocal paper about a mother who was down on her luck, Daniels piled Fox and his sister inthe car and drove to the woman's house. While Daniels remained in the car, he gavethe children an envelope with about $300 in it and told them to drop it on thewoman's doorstep and run away. "Drive-by giving, we called it," Fox said.
Former Continental Cablevision Inc. chairman Amos Hostetterreflected on Daniels' impact on the cable industry.
"When I think of Bill's role in our business, twowords come to my mind: evangelist and conscience," Hostetter said. "He was atireless, peripatetic huckster, a one-man booster club for the entire cable-televisionindustry. While others may have preceded him, I'm certain that history will recordBill Daniels as the father of the modern cable-television industry."
To bring home his point, Hostetter recited a list of cablecompanies that can boast an early Daniels influence: "TCI [Tele-Communications Inc.],ATC/Time Warner [Cable], Continental, Cox [Communications Inc.], Viacom [Cable],TelePrompTer, Westinghouse, Storer, Communications Properties, United Cable, Cypress,Scripps Howard, Times-Mirror, [The] Tribune [Co.], CapCities, the list goes on and on.Over four decades, Bill mobilized most of the capital and much of the human resources forour modern cable-communications industry. In one way or another, we are all hisprogeny."
Time Warner Cable president Joe Collins, also after theceremony, said Daniels' impact on the industry was widespread. "It's hardto understate the influence Bill had on the cable industry," he said, adding thatDaniels' former cable company, ATC, was one of the building blocks of Time WarnerCable.
"All of the pieces of Time Warner Cable can trace backto Bill Daniels," he said. "Almost any company in the industry can dothat."
Cox president James Robbins said that although hedidn't know Daniels that well personally, Cox nevertheless owed him a debt.
"He did a lot for Cox in the early years, andwe've tried to build on that," he said. "He encouraged the [Cox] family tobe a player in the business, which was very important."
Daniels had a reputation as a tough but fair boss, and thattranslated into his business dealings, as well. But Fox, speaking before the audience,offered a little different insight into the man. Behind the gruff exterior, Bill Danielscould be a pussycat.
He remembered one of his stepfather's favorite pets, acat named Sidney who dropped a fish on Daniels' porch one day and never left. The catdied first, but Daniels kept the ashes and left instructions to have them intermingledwith his own and spread out over the Pacific Ocean.
"Fighter pilot coming to rest with kitty cat -- Billwas simply extraordinary," he added.