Longtime WFLA anchor Bill Ratliff dies at 63

The longtime WFLA anchor dies at 63.
Bill Ratliff covered everything from hurricanes to Gasparilla to political elections. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times (2008)
Bill Ratliff covered everything from hurricanes to Gasparilla to political elections.SCOTT KEELER | Times (2008)
Published May 8 2012
Updated May 9 2012

Bill Ratliff, a former morning anchor who worked at WFLA-Ch. 8 nearly three decades before retiring in 2009, has died at age 63.

According to his son Chet, Mr. Ratliff passed away Tuesday afternoon after complications from surgery at Kindred Hospital in Tampa.

Mr. Ratliff capped a 27-year tenure when he left WFLA, unwilling to accept a pay cut for reduced hours on air. He returned to local TV briefly in 2010, offering political commentary on the midterm election cycle for CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.

WFLA morning anchor Gayle Guyardo, who worked with him from 1994 until his retirement and remained in touch, said the anchor kept his health problems even from friends.

"This didn't catch me completely off guard," Guyardo said about an hour after learning the news. "I just wish I'd had a chance to say goodbye to him and maybe see him."

Raised in Cincinnati, Mr. Ratliff began working at WFLA in 1982 after a successful stint in Dallas. He was brought to WFLA to co-anchor the station's 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. He was teamed with anchor Bob Hite a couple of years later, and instead of seeing ratings take off, they tanked.

"The news director called us in and told us one of us would be off the evening newscasts by the end of the year," Mr. Ratliff remembered back in 2009, noting the station wanted to add a female anchor.

Hite got the evening job, teaming with current anchor Gayle Sierens until he retired in late 2007. Mr. Ratliff accepted a reassignment covering the 1986 race for the U.S. Senate between Bob Graham and Paula Hawkins.

He eventually landed on the morning newscast in 1987, a shift Mr. Ratliff would work until his retirement — except for a two-year break.

During his tenure, he anchored the station's Gasparilla Parade broadcasts for a quarter century and covered Hurricane Elena. In 1993, he spoke on the phone with a gunman named Bruce G. Larson, who called the station then killed himself and his two children after a seven-hour standoff with police.

Back when Mr. Ratliff retired, Guyardo filmed a jokey video for WFLA documenting how he planned his wardrobe so his ensembles wouldn't repeat for at least 50 days. After hearing of his passing, those meticulous ways were what she remembered Tuesday.

"He would be the first to clock in at the start of every day … every pencil and paper clip in place on his desk," said Guyardo, who teared up while talking about her former partner.

"When we first started working together, he was so hard-core it was tough to work with him," she said. "But eventually he loosened up and we were kind of like that TV show The Odd Couple; these very different people who had great chemistry on TV."

WFLA news director Don North remembered Mr. Ratliff as a passionate journalist who also served as managing editor for the morning newscast.

"He was a very important person to the success of WFLA," North said. "He was a rock in the morning newscast and … made a lot of decisions on the content of that show."

Mr. Ratliff is survived by his wife, Linda, and children, Chet and Shannon. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to All Children's Hospital or the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida.

The family expects to hold a public funeral later this week at Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, but has not finalized arrangements.

Times researcher Natalie Watson and Times files contributed to this report.