Les Is More

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First day of business for Read and Poole gasoline service station in Great Neck. Everyone referred to the station as the “wedding cake.” It was at the station that 5-year-old Les Read collected ration coupons during WWII.
First day of business for Read and Poole gasoline service station in Great Neck. Everyone referred to the station as the “wedding cake.” It was at the station that 5-year-old Les Read collected ration coupons during WWII.

Daniel Boone was a pioneer. So was Leslie Howard Read. Read is a former trustee and mayor of Baxter Estates who, as a pioneer, affected your life more than Boone—and happily so, I might add. And what a guy! He went from a kid hawking newspapers at the Great Neck train station to become a late-blooming student who pioneered a new service so successfully he was known as “Mister HBO.” Oh, and that voice. I would pay just to hear him read the phone book aloud.

Read was born in Mineola in 1935. He and his older sister, Barbara, are first-generation Americans. Dad (Charles) was from Liverpool and mother (Mabel) first saw the light of day in Birkenhead. “In my father’s time,” said Read, “when you were 15 you either went to work or went to sea. He went to sea.” Charles’ very first job in America was working for a Henry Ford Garage in Great Neck. He sensed there was something about automobiles that held a future for him. About two years later, a new gasoline service station opened in Great Neck in the old village. Surprise! Its name was Read and Poole, which became Read’s Gulf Service when Poole pulled out. Charles’ association with Gulf spanned 33 years. “My first job,” said Read, “was to collect A and B stamps because of WWII gas rationing.” He was about 6 or 7 years old and, “I was standing there at the pumps with a basket for the stamps. No stamps, no gas.”

Read went to Allendale Elementary School in Great Neck, which still exists. One of his best buddies was Charlie McCausland. Today, Charlie is a three-star general in the Air Force.

Read went to Great Neck High School and graduated in 1953. I can’t tell you about his grades, but I can tell you what he learned. “With my dad in the gas business,” Read confessed, “I learned to drive very young. About 13 or 14 years old. I just got behind the wheel of a car and drove. I knew how to get from the old village downtown to the train station without hitting any main roads.”

Read’s first paying job was at the Great Neck Train Station where he stood on the platform shouting, “Buy your Great Neck News right here,” he said. “Next, I became a Newsday carrier and Great Neck Estates was my route; that’s 140 newspapers. But my mom didn’t drive, so when it became rainy, I was in real trouble. It was me against the elements! I had a bicycle with a big basket on the front and bag on each side. Great Neck Estates has a lot of hills, I tell you. I often had to push the bike up the hills.” Then smiling ever so innocently, he said, “I think I timed it so I got through Christmas; the tips were pretty good.”

No one could ever accuse Read of being lazy. Seems like he never stopped working. He got a job at the Merchant Marine Academy in Great Neck in the commissary where midshipmen could purchase milkshakes and snacks. “I decided to make a better milkshake than anybody else,” Read said. “I would throw in an extra scoop of ice cream but never told anyone. Soon everyone was standing in line for my milkshakes. I became the milkshake king of the Merchant Marine Academy. From there, I went out into the world and found me a job at Gilliard Drugs. I was a professional soda jerk.” He was about 15. “Every buck that I made I put into the bank,” said Les. “That was my mother, the savings lady. I was a businessman, not a student.”

Whatever free time Read had in the winter, he cleaned the ice and gave skating lessons at the Great Neck Ice Rink on Cuttermill Road. “My other job started in summer,” Les said. “I was a lifeguard at the Kensington Pool.” True to form, in a couple of years he was head lifeguard.
After graduating from Great Neck High, and as much as he respected his father, Les had the difficult job of telling Charlie the family business was not for him. To say that Charlie was disappointed would be an understatement. But good father that he was, along with Mabel, their son’s happiness and success was paramount. A friend attending Nichols Junior College in Dudley, MA, suggested to Read that Nichols would be the right place for him to “get his act together.” It was the right move for Les. “It was a glorious graduation,” said Les. “And there was my mother,” he added, “saying proudly, ‘That’s my son.’”

Part Two—Meet Mister HBO

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