Lee Nelson is retiring as news anchor from News Center Maine and will pursue a career in fitness. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Longtime TV news reporter and anchor Lee Nelson, who grew up in TV studios as the son of a news anchor, will end a long career in the news business on Friday when he retires from News Center Maine.

“It’s a little surreal, having spent my entire adult life doing one thing to now be doing something else,” Nelson, 58, said in a phone interview on Thursday. “But at the same time, I feel fine. I am not rethinking it. My father was 52 when he died, and he had some unfulfilled goals and plans, and I hear that so often. People wait to retire and then they are not healthy enough to do what they want to do. I am healthy and I want to do something else. I have accomplished everything I can (in TV news), and now I would like to accomplish some other things.”

His new career is in fitness. Nelson, a self-described gym rat since his teens and certified personal trainer since 2010, will work with clients at Foley’s Fitness Center in Scarborough.

Nelson’s father was a news anchor in Maine, Boston and New York. TV news was an unlikely career for Nelson, despite his father’s success in the business. He grew up with what he calls “quite a substantial stammer” and had to learn to conquer it before he flourished in front of a camera. “I don’t know that I have fully conquered it yet, but I certainly have conquered it on the air. When I am really tired and really stressed, it comes out,” he said.

Nelson started his career in broadcasting in 1985 when he got a job as a page at NBC in New York giving studio tours and seating audiences for “Saturday Night Live” and other shows. He has been with WCSH since 1990, when he began hosting the News Center Maine “Morning Report.” He remained on the morning show for one month shy of 30 years, before switching to the evening news in 2019. Friday night’s broadcast will be his last.

Nelson is married to his co-anchor, Cindy Williams. They met while working together in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, his first on-air job. This week on WCSH’s news magazine show “207,” he said he had few regrets, other than waiting so long to join his wife side-by-side on the evening news. “Should have done that earlier,” Nelson said.

They live in Biddeford, where they recently relocated from Falmouth in an effort to downsize, and have two sons in their 20s.

They worked together at the NBC affiliate in Hattiesburg for 14 months, before moving to New England. “I wanted to stick around with her, but I didn’t want to stick around Hattiesburg,” said Nelson, a Lewiston native. She got a job in New Hampshire and he picked up freelance work in Boston, before they both ended up in Portland.

Nelson is a certified personal trainer and will work with clients at Foley’s Fitness in Scarborough. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Writing on the News Center Maine website, “207” co-host Rob Caldwell said he would miss his longtime colleague. “Lee has been a friend of mine for more than 30 years, and I’ll miss seeing him in the newsroom, talking about what’s happening across the street or around the world, swapping gossip, cracking jokes,” Caldwell wrote. “But I admire his enthusiasm as he leaves behind the only professional life he’s known as an adult and heads down new roads. As I’ve had to say too many times over the years when colleagues depart: Good for him … bad for us.”

Nelson began his career in TV after his father died, so his father never saw him on the air or knew of his interest in broadcasting. He said his father would be “flabbergasted” to know that his son spent more than 30 years delivering the news to audiences in Maine. “My life has been kind of written by him in a lot of ways. I have tried to do the things he had done and enjoyed and tried to avoid the things that didn’t work out for him,” he said.

His mother, who lived in Maine, died three years ago.

Nelson’s father jumped around in his career, from Maine to Boston to New York, in pursuit of better jobs in bigger markets. That movement created stress for the family and was something that Nelson wanted to avoid when he committed to a career in broadcasting. Once they found something they liked in Maine, Nelson and Williams decided to settle and raise a family. “We were really comfortable at Channel 6. It was a great place to work, and it made sense to stay.”

He said he would miss interacting with viewers and co-workers, and said the best part of the job was connecting with people across Maine. He said he made his decision to leave the news business last winter, before the pandemic, and acknowledged that now is a turbulent, tumultuous time for news reporters. In a parting message, he urged viewers to treat the news seriously and dismissed any notion that the news is fake.

“It’s really frustrating there are so many people out there who think we make up the news,” Nelson said. “It’s crazy. But it’s there. That didn’t used to be the case, until four or five years ago. Then all of sudden people were thinking we’re not telling the truth.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.