R.I.P. John Winter
Fontaine wouldn’t discuss further details of the suicide with me, but he did say he had accompanied the weatherman to visit doctors a few times years ago, noting there was at least one other time he was concerned the forecaster might take his own life.
“Individuals need somebody to listen to them, and I think that’s what I was for John,” said Fontaine, an 18-year employee of WFLA who works as a director on the station’s morning and midday newscasts. “I would tell him how I felt … I would share with him my faith … I think that would help John through the dark times … Sometimes, people at work may be smiling and laughing, but inside, they’re hurting.”
“He was telling me he wanted to end it,” Fontaine said in WFLA's story. “He was asking for forgiveness for what he was about to do.”
Winter’s wife Karen declined to speak with me. His stepmother, Grace Winter, said family members were too distraught over the circumstances and hoped to respect the forecaster’s sensibilities as a private person by limiting public comment.
Fontaine met Winter in 2000, when he began working as director on WFLA’s morning newscasts. In 2003, the pair formed a side business, Big U Media, that produced TV commercials and promotional projects.
Winter was tiring of the grind of early morning work and looked forward to a time when Big U Media might grow large enough to allow him to leave the job, Fontaine said. The forecaster had been working evenings filling in for colleagues on vacation, and Fontaine had planned to visit him Thursday night.
“That’s why I’m hurt and disappointed,” said Fontaine. “I can only say, if you’re working with a friend and see them hurting, try to get them help.”
His longtime colleage in the mornings, 39-year-old weather forecaster John Winter, killed himself at his home just hours earlier.
"He's going to be missed," said Ratliff, who would later anchor a tribute to his fallen colleague on this morning's news broadcast. "Not only was he a good meterologist, he was a good TV personality, and you don't often find that in the same person. It's unbelievable."
As I hung up the telephone with Bill, I found an email from WFLA-AM personality Tedd Webb with a link to the Tampa Tribune's first story on the incident. Already, the area's TV and media personalities were exchanging what little information was available and registering the shock fans and viewers would later echo on messages boards and voice mail messages.
I never really knew John, though he was one of the first personalities I met upon starting my job as TV critic at the Times in 1997. I had arranged a visit to the WFLA newsroom and he and Gayle Guyardo were among the first people I encountered that morning. An experienced hand at the station already, having started there in 1994, he had the kind of upbeat, outgoing personality you expected to find in a successful TV anchor.
Later, I heard rumors -- like I do about everybody in local TV -- that his sunny on air demeanor hid personal problems. But I shrugged it off; now I wonder if that did him a disservice.
Now, it seems obvious that he had a lot of fans who enjoyed his work over the years. It's too bad that wasn't enough to keep him from committing an unthinkable act.