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Michael S. Tallent, star basketball player at GW and Comcast executive, dies at 71

Mr. Tallent was a basketball star for George Washington University and enjoyed playing bluegrass on the guitar.

Michael S. Tallent pictured on the golf course, one of his favorite places.
Michael S. Tallent pictured on the golf course, one of his favorite places.Read moreCourtesy of the Tallent Family

Michael S. Tallent, 71, of Haverford and Bal Harbour, Fla., an athlete and accountant who became an executive vice president of Comcast Corp., died Sept. 22 of renal failure at Bryn Mawr Hospital.

Known as ‘'Mike,'’ he started his career in 1977 as a certified public accountant for what is now PriceWaterhouseCoopers in Washington and then Miami. In 1982, he was hired as controller of the Miami-based Storer Communications cable division.

During seven years there, he became Storer’s cable division president. He delighted in learning the mundane technical details of running cable systems.

Comcast bought Storer in 1988, and he eventually joined Comcast as president of the acquired company. He made the move because of the integrity of Comcast founder Ralph Roberts, said Mr. Tallent’s wife, Cynthia.

Over time, his title became Comcast vice president of finance and administration.

“Without Mike, Comcast wouldn’t be what it is today,” said Brian L. Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp. and Ralph Roberts' son. "He was a huge part of the heart and soul that built this company. His quick wit and memorable one-liners still make me smile — and really helped define Comcast’s culture. We miss him dearly and will always remember the lasting contribution he made to our business and the Comcast family.”

Mr. Tallent was the first senior financial executive to bring with him deep cable experience, William Novak wrote in the book An Incredible Dream: Ralph Roberts and the Story of Comcast.

He was so knowledgeable that he gave in-house tutorials at Comcast. “When he spoke, people listened,” Novak wrote. “If you showed up in the late afternoon, when the teacher was at his best, you could count on being later for dinner."

“Cable is a simple business,” Mr. Tallent liked to say, according to Novak. “It comes down to four words: buy wholesale, sell retail. Look at the facts and pay attention to the numbers. This isn’t rocket science.”

Born in Maytown, an Eastern Kentucky town of 200, he came from a family of athletes. He was an all-star basketball player in high school and went to George Washington University on a basketball scholarship, as did his brothers Bill, Bob, and Pat.

He dreamed of being a pro basketball player but injured his knee during a celebrated career at GWU and was forced to abandon that goal.

He followed his older brother Bob to Washington. After playing for his brother, then coach of George Washington’s freshman team, in 1968, he played alongside Bob in 1969 when the Tallents finished as the team’s top two scorers.

Mr. Tallent, a 6-foot-1 guard, scored more than 1,000 points in his three college seasons, culminating in 1971-72, when he led the Southern Conference in scoring to earn first team all-conference honors.

His younger brother Pat later joined the men’s basketball team at George Washington. All three are in the university’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, Mr. Tallent was named to the program’s top 100 men’s basketball student-athletes of all-time, ranking 27th.

After giving up basketball, Mr. Tallent enjoyed golf. He grew up playing on a nine-hole course in Kentucky that featured sand greens. But he eventually found his way to such courses as Merion and Pine Valley.

“He often compared golf to life, saying it’s not right to cheat at either just because you can get away with it,” his wife said in a tribute. “It’s important to do the right thing even though nobody’s watching."

Mr. Tallent also loved music. He played piano in church as a teenager and bluegrass on the guitar later, and always loved the Beatles.

“The music that made him happiest was hearing his son James play Clocks and Spoons and son Craig play Crossroads on the guitar,” his wife said.

He earned bachelor’s degrees in zoology and accounting. He chose zoology because he had always loved animals and paid close attention to his pets.

“Sometimes he would drive Pinkie, his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, around the neighborhood because he thought she looked like she wanted to go for a ride,” his wife said.

In addition to sports and music, Mr. Tallent excelled at playing poker and bridge. He was an expert in history because of his voracious reading.

He was firmly grounded in Christian ethics. “Mike had integrity and he got that from his mother, Irma,” his wife said. Once, he watched her drive for miles to return money to a store clerk who had given her too much change.

Besides his wife, he is survived by children Craig, Christianne, and James; a grandson; and his three brothers.

Services were Oct. 2.

Memorial donations can be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, Tenn. 38105.