ST. PETERSBURG — About 600 people gathered at Suncoast Cathedral Saturday to say farewell to television meteorologist Dick Fletcher, who died Tuesday.
The service drew friends, relatives and colleagues and those who simply knew him as the avuncular weatherman on television.
Afterward, many stood in a long line to offer condolences to his wife, Cindy, three adult children and other family members, who sat together in the church's front pews.
As tributes were paid to the man colleagues knew as "Fletch," laughter commingled with tears. Six speakers spoke of Fletcher's passion for his work, love of family, dedication to community service and generosity of spirit.
They talked about a man who loved cars, but drove a red pickup truck, a person who was frugal in his own life, but generous with others.
Kathleen Stein, who played tennis with Fletcher on Wednesday mornings, brought visual aids for her tribute — a broken tennis racket and a new can of tennis balls.
The meteorologist would use a tennis ball for as long as he could, she said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
"He just sincerely believed that as long as a ball had some integrity and purpose that it was still useful and so we would use it. He believed that about himself and others also," she said.
Fletcher's son, Sean, also spoke, as did University of South Florida professor Albert C. Hine and three of Dick Fletcher's colleagues from WTSP-Ch. 10: Mike Deeson, Reggie Roundtree and Beau Zimmer.
The 90-minute service concluded with a video of Fletcher's life. Outside, a man named Paul Wislotski invited those who attended the service to draw and color "hands of support" on a large red canvas for the Fletcher family.
Katrina Smitley, a reservations agent for Continental Airlines, drove from Clearwater for the service.
"He comes into your living room and seems like part of your family. I wanted to pay my respects," said Smitley, who wiped away tears throughout the service.
"I've been in the Tampa Bay area for a long time, and Dick Fletcher just seemed like a down-to-earth person."
Erika Kollar, who sat alone in a pew, said she met Fletcher once at a breakfast for seniors.
"He's a wonderful speaker," she said.
Marcia Campbell brought her son, David, and one of his friends. The meteorologist recently spoke to the boys' Scout troop.
"Our boys were working on their weather badge. He was good with the kids," she said.
Glancing around the large church, Campbell added, "I didn't realize he touched so many people."
Speaking to the gathering, Deeson, Fletcher's longtime friend and colleague, said: "Nobody was invisible to Dick, whether it was a homeless person or the president of the United States. He was my hero. He embodied everything good about the American work ethic."
Sean Fletcher spoke of what it was like growing up with a famous father. It meant being interrupted at restaurant dinners by eager admirers, to whom his father was always courteous. He said his father made personal sacrifices for his children and taught them to work for what they wanted. He was also smart.
In a game of Trivial Pursuit, he said, "Let's just say, you wanted to be on my dad's team."
Hine, associate dean of research for USF's College of Marine Science in St. Petersburg, spoke about getting to know the weatherman when Fletcher took two graduate courses in oceanography.
"He was a joy to have in my class. He embraced learning. He always asked the penetrating questions that students were too intimidated or too shy to ask," Hine said before the service began.
"There should be more people in the world like Dick Fletcher," he told the crowd.
Fletcher, who died following a massive stroke, had been chief meteorologist for Channel 10 for 28 years. He was 65.
"The night that Dick died, we had a torrential rain with lightning and tornado watches and we talked about, 'Why Dick? Why now?' I certainly can't answer that, but it occurred to me that he certainly was inspirational," Stein, his tennis partner, said.
"Last Wednesday morning I went to the court where we play, and I sat in a chair on our court for one hour. I left our court, and I introduced myself to a new 4-year-old class with a new teacher, Mrs. Mounts, at Head Start. That's where I'll be on Wednesdays, with Dick on my shoulder."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283.