Lester M. Smith, who along with entertainer Danny Kaye and four other investors became the original owners of the Seattle Mariners in 1976, died Wednesday at his home of undisclosed causes. He was 93. Smith, Kaye, Stanley Golub, Walter Schoenfeld, James Stillwell and James A. Walsh owned the Mariners until 1981, when they sold to California real estate developer George Argyros.
Smith came to the expansion Mariners as a businessman who had spent most of his working career in the broadcasting industry. His interest started in 1954 when he acquired KJR. He subsequently became CEO of Kaye-Smith Enterprises, a diversified company in the fields of entertainment and broadcasting.
Smith also became a partner in the Seattle Sounders of the North American Soccer League and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
Born Oct. 20, 1919 in New York City to Sadie and Alexander Smith, Smith graduated from New York University and went to work for NBC as a page, guiding tours of its New York studios. Smith served in the military during WWII, after which he traveled to San Francisco to visit an uncle, and decided to make the West Coast his home.
Smith joined a media brokerage firm in 1951 and became a station owner in 1954 when Seattles KJR became available. Smith also acquired radio stations in Portland and Spokane. By the 1960s, Les had become a partner with Kaye in 10 radio stations each known as a well-run, highly competitive market leader.
Kaye-Smith Enterprises entered many other entertainment-related businesses. It opened Seattles first major recording studio, created a video and radio advertising production business, built the worlds largest concert promotions company and developed a successful radio syndication company.
At 67, Les purchased a modest business forms company and brought his entrepreneurial skills to bear on an industry he knew little about. Today, Kaye-Smith is a leading document outsourcing and financial communications company.
Smith was preceded in death by his parents, and brothers Howard and Danny. He is survived by wife Bernice, daughters June (Alan) Brockmeier, Kim Miller, Laura (Paul) Roberts, and son Alex (Ange) Smith, grandchildren Jennifer (Ben) Smith, Geoff Brockmeier, Nathan Smith and Lucy Smith, great-granddaughters Ella and Lauren and several nephews.
The family requests that, in lieu of flowers, friends support a charity of their choice to honor Smith. The family plans a celebration of Smith’s life in December.
What a great man! Really missed, He gave a lot of people employment, latitude to grow and thrive in life and business. He really cared. RIP Les, you were a GREAT man!
I’m sure the family will appreciate your comments. Thanks for taking the time to respond.
I remember functions at Kaye-Smith studios, probably Seattle’s first borderline world-class recording studio, which then became, I believe, Bad Animals or something like that, and now I don’t know what is going on with it. Too bad he was not able to leave more of his successful imprint on the Mariners. I saw elsewhere where it said one of his three happiest days as owner of the Mariners was when he sold the team, together with Opening Day 1977 and the 1979 All-Star Game. Kind of like the two happiest days of a sailboat owner’s life, the day he buys the boat and the day he sells it. Wonder what that says about his overall view of trying to build a successful major league baseball franchise in Seattle? He was, overall, a winner.