Cable Pioneer William Bresnan Dies at 75

Cable industry mourns the passing of industry pioneer and Bresnan Communications founder

November 29, 2009

4 Min Read

PURCHASE, N.Y. -- William J. Bresnan, Chairman of Bresnan Communications and a pioneer and prominent executive in the cable television industry, died Friday, November 27th, at his home in Greenwich, CT from complications of cancer. Mr. Bresnan’s 50-year career in the industry began as an engineer in the earliest days of the business and led first to leadership posts in some of the industry’s largest cable companies and ultimately to the founding of his own company, headquartered in Purchase, NY.

Mr. Bresnan was predeceased by his wife of 43 years, Barbara Boettcher Bresnan, with whom he had five children. He is survived by his current wife Ann Lessing Bresnan, her five children, his six children, 11 grandchildren and a brother and sister.

Born in Mankato, MN, Mr. Bresnan designed and built his first cable system in nearby Rochester, MN at the age of 25. When that system was acquired by West Coast entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke in 1965, he joined the Cooke executive team. Cooke’s holdings ultimately were merged with TelePrompTer Corporation, at that time the nation’s largest cable operating company. Mr. Bresnan served as President of TelePrompTer’s Cable Television Division from 1974 to 1981, at which time Westinghouse Electric purchased TelePrompTer and Mr. Bresnan became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the new company, Group W Cable.

He left that post in 1984 to found Bresnan Communications, which initially operated cable systems both in the upper Midwest and internationally and which currently operates throughout the Rocky Mountain States. Under Mr. Bresnan’s leadership the company established a unique niche as a provider of advanced telecommunications services to small and mid-sized communities. Many members of his executive team, including three sons and his brother Patrick, have worked alongside him over the company’s 25-year history.

In commenting on Mr. Bresnan’s passing, Jeffrey S. DeMond, Chief Executive Officer of Bresnan Communications, said, “Bill Bresnan hired good, smart people and led by example. He gave us the mission to succeed not just by doing things right but by doing the right thing as well, and each of our lives is richer for having learned from him. His final lesson to all of us was his valiant battle against cancer, fought fiercely and with never a complaint.”

Despite a half-century of professional accomplishment, it was, according to industry friends, Mr. Bresnan’s reputation for generosity and compelling friendship for which he was best known.

Kyle McSlarrow, President & CEO, of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) said upon hearing of Mr. Bresnan’s passing “This is an irreplaceable and heartbreaking loss. Bill Bresnan was one of our industry’s titans – an industry pioneer, visionary entrepreneur, and technology leader who built companies that always put employees and customers first.”

Throughout his career Mr. Bresnan was deeply involved with all of the major industry associations, serving on numerous Boards of Directors. He often testified on the industry’s behalf before the FCC and U.S. Congressional committees on a wide range of legislative and regulatory issues. Long cited as one of the industry’s leading champions of technological advancement, Mr. Bresnan played a key role in the development of the first domestic satellite transmission for cable as well as the implementation of the country’s first commercial fiber optic communications system. He was the recipient of virtually every award and recognition within the cable industry, and was inducted into both the Cable Television Hall of Fame and the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.

Mr. Bresnan was instrumental in lighting up the Chrysler Building, an achievement which helps to illuminate the New York skyline. While working for Jack Kent Cooke in the 1970’s, he was asked by Mr. Cooke, who had purchased the building, to look into the feasibility of doing so. Mr. Bresnan put on jeans and crawled to the top of the skyscraper where he noticed unfinished wiring in the cut-glass windows at the peak. This discovery made the lighting possible.

Known as a devoted family man, Mr. Bresnan is survived by his wife Ann; his children Michael, Robert and Daniel Bresnan, Colleen Shelden, Mary Cashman and Maureen Ward; and his grandchildren Matthew, Peter, Sean, Melanie, Bettina and Dylan Bresnan; Grace and Teddy Cashman; Katherine, Anna and Will Shelden. He is also survived by his sister Marilyn Berg and brother Patrick J. Bresnan. He leaves his in-law children Mary Ann Sherry, Victoria Bresnan, Lauren Versel Bresnan, Brian Cashman, Donald Shelden and Michael Ward and his step-children Jennifer, Kirstie, Lindsay and William Benedict and Courtenay and T. J. Carella and their children Ainsley and Devon Carella.

A memorial service will be held at St. Mary’s Church at 178 Greenwich Ave. in Greenwich, CT on Wednesday, December 2nd at 11 am. The wake will be held Monday, November 30th and Tuesday, December 1st between 4 pm and 8 pm at the Leo P. Gallagher & Sons funeral home at 31 Arch Street also in Greenwich.

Bresnan Communications LLC

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