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Dick Goddard announces retirement plans

By Rich Heldenfels • May 29, 2016 at 10:00 AM

CLEVELAND — Dick Goddard, the legendary weatherman and protector of pets, will wrap up his regular forecasting for WJW (Channel 8) in November, and then focus on animal welfare.

Comparing the change to Groundhog Day, he said, “In six months, I’ll be going into hiding and come out the other side as an animal advocate.”

Goddard, 85, announced his plan near the end of WJW’s 6 p.m. newscast on Wednesday. Not only did the program tease audiences about Goddard’s announcement for almost the entire program, as well as in promotional spots leading up to it, both May and November are months when local stations get major ratings information. And even when he’s saying goodbye, Goddard can be counted on to draw a crowd.

It’s been that way for just about all of the past 55 years for the man who has spent almost all his life in Northeast Ohio, from his Akron birth through his current residence in Medina.

When it came to meteorologists, Goddard was long the gold standard. Al Roker, who worked at WJW’s competitor WKYC (Channel 3) from 1978 to 1983, was asked many years later who had been the top weatherman in his day. “It was Dick Goddard,” he said, “and I would assume it probably still is Dick Goddard.”

Goddard’s weather work began when he joined the Air Force in 1949 and was soon sent to meteorology school. After completing his service he went to Kent State, earning his degree while working for the weather bureau at Akron-Canton airport. At the bureau, he would do weather reports for radio and that, he said in his memoir Six Inches of Partly Cloudy, led to his getting an offer to do TV for Channel 3, then KYW, in 1960. After weeks of auditions and a tryout of sorts on Linn Sheldon’s Barnaby program, he was offered a deal to do the weather.

His first official appearance, on May 1, 1961, was under a 13-week contract. He famously referred to “froaking crogs,” not the last time he would mix up his words. But his expertise was soon evident in other areas; Goddard was far wiser about local forecasts than even the National Weather Service.

His forecasts were delivered with warmth and a sense of humor that endeared him even to tough audiences like the notorious Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson, with whom Goddard became fast friends. The Woollybear Festival, celebrating the caterpillar that can allegedly predict winter conditions, began in part as a twinkle in Goddard’s eye; it’s now in its 44th year. Even Wednesday, he was pulling new festival stickers out of his pocket to hand to anchors Lou Maglio and Tracy McCool.

His advocacy for animals has included not only calls for the adoption of pets but ongoing support for revisions of Ohio law to make cruelty to dogs, cats and other “companion animals” a felony. The bill, known as Goddard’s Law, passed in the Ohio House in 2015; hearings have been held in the Senate but that’s as far as things have gone.

All of these efforts explain why Goddard’s original, 13-week contract has led to subsequent deals covering about 3,000 weeks.

Goddard once told me how the late Dick Shippy, then an entertainment writer for the Beacon Journal, used to claim that the meteorologist would not last long. Shippy retired in 1991. Goddard, solidly in the TV firmament by then, kept going another 25 years.

He was off the local airwaves in the mid ’60s when an ownership change sent the KYW staff to a Philadelphia station. Though he remembers being well received, he says in his memoir that “I wanted to come home.” After pondering bids from three local stations, he chose WJW — not least because they carried the Browns then, and Goddard is an admitted sports nut.

The years have had their rough times. Most painfully, in 1996, Goddard’s mother, Doris Goddard Moore, and his companion of 24 years, Julie Ann Cashel, died within days of each other. Age and ailments have slowed him in recent years. In 2014, he had to be rescued from his car after getting caught in floodwaters from a severe local downpour.

But he has kept looking for joy for himself and others, whether by spreading the news about the latest progress of Goddard’s Law, or just handing out stuff. When I visited him at WJW a few years ago, he offered up a drawing of butterflies, Woollybear memorabilia, and a “hooters” calendar with pictures of owls for each month.

“He’s a very nice, sweet, gentle man, who doesn’t take himself seriously,” Roker once said. “As important as he is in Ohio, and as well-known as he is, he’s still a pretty humble person.”

While there have been critics and carpers, Goddard once told me that “99 percent of people are great. … People have been so good to me, and I really appreciate that.”

And they, for decades, have appreciated him.

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©2016 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com

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