ST. PETERSBURG — One year, Dick Fletcher's wife threw a him a birthday party. His close friends from his TV station were at his house, having a great time.
But Mr. Fletcher couldn't stop checking his computer. There was a storm coming.
Eventually, he left his own party and went to the news station. The rest of his guests trickled out, joining him back at work.
"Dick was not even scheduled to be on," said Mike Deeson, a reporter at WTSP-Ch.10. "He was so committed to this. He lived for weather."
Mr. Fletcher, WTSP's chief meteorologist for 30 years, died Tuesday at age 65. He never recovered from a stroke suffered on Feb. 18. He is survived by his wife, Cindy, and three adult children.
Hundreds of well-wishers offered condolences through the CBS station's Web site and cards sent to the station.
"Dick was the kind of guy who wanted to get it out fast, but more importantly, he wanted it out right," said Ed Davis, a 45-year-old viewer from Clearwater who began watching Mr. Fletcher in high school. "If I wanted to do something important, I watched Dick Fletcher. If I had something going on outside, I watched Dick Fletcher."
At work, Mr. Fletcher prolonged daily editorial meetings with factoids about the weather. He bounded quickly through the newsroom, smiling, nachos in hand. He wasn't afraid to correct anchors on air. He had an off-color sense of humor.
And he let his opinions rip.
Once, when a reporter quipped on air that she hoped it stayed dry for a parade, Mr. Fletcher shot back — the major drought going on was more important than a parade.
"He could be incredibly blunt when talking about the weather," said WTVT-Ch. 13 anchor Jon Wilson, who once worked with Mr. Fletcher. "There was no question when Dick told us something was coming, whether it was going to happen. He wouldn't stand and shout in the newsroom. But he would say, 'This is going to happen. If you don't pay attention, then don't blame me.' "
In 1985, when Hurricane Elena stalled off the Gulf Coast for three days, Mr. Fletcher turned in a marathon performance, spending long hours updating viewers on the storm's progress, gaining a huge local following.
Viewers appreciated his "3-degree guarantee" — he would give a Channel 10 mug or T-shirt to a viewer if his forecasts were off more than 3 degrees. Later, he presented "Weather Whys," answering viewer questions about weather issues.
Mr. Fletcher was born in Omaha, Neb. He worked in Texas and Colorado before joining WTSP as chief meteorologist in 1980. The station, then an ABC affiliate, had decided to get serious about the weather, said Deeson. The modern weather forecaster would be more than goofy comic relief.
"There wasn't any other competition in the Roy Leep era until Dick Fletcher came along," said WTVT weather forecaster Howard Shapiro, referring to the station's own popular weather forecaster, who retired in 1997.
"You don't stay in the top spot in a station as long as he did without people having confidence in what you say," Shapiro said. "(WTSP) didn't bring him in to be a funny guy -— you knew he knew his business."
Over the years, Mr. Fletcher received numerous recognitions, including a national award for Outstanding Service by a Broadcast Meteorologist from the American Meteorological Society in 1987, the Media Award from the Governor's Hurricane Conference in 1993, and the distinguished service award from the National Hurricane Conference in 2003.
"Dick was an icon in this market -— and his impact goes beyond the Tampa market to all the young meteorologists he helped train and inspire," said Darren Richards, WTSP's news director. "The guy was encyclopedic in his memory — not just about the weather, but about everything in the market. And if he didn't know the answer he would try to find the answer."
Mr. Fletcher also spent time in the community educating schoolchildren, business groups and senior citizens on the importance of preparing for the weather. He was involved with the station's efforts to collect school supplies for needy children and support research for breast cancer and heart disease.
He was private about his home life. He lived in St. Petersburg and drove a modest red pickup truck. Tennis was his release. He played in a senior league, where he won a tournament. He trained at North Shore courts.
On the court, he would wax about politics and religion, and swap jokes with other players. He was competitive and hard on himself. And despite his heavy smoking habit, which friends say he tried to quit for about six months after suffering a first stroke in 2003, he was quick and agile.
"He always ran a ball down," said his tennis pro, Jack Carey Jr. "He was as fast as any teenager I worked with."
Mr. Fletcher played tennis the morning of his stroke, said his doubles partner, Tony Colacchio. And just a couple of weeks ago, he said, they talked about how fleeting life can be.
"When you get to be our age, you talk about health," said Colacchio, 67. "We were talking about how today, everybody is sort of predestined. Like here today, gone tomorrow."
Though sometimes crusty, Mr. Fletcher was a great friend, his peers say.
WTSP reporter Beau Zimmer recalled his first encounter with Mr. Fletcher, when Zimmer was a 10-year-old hosting a children's program at the station.
He and friends were goofing around with a remote clicker that changed the electronic weather maps that Mr. Fletcher was creating nearby in his office.
Flip. Flip. Flip.
Mr. Fletcher ran out screaming. "Will you get away from my equipment?!"
Zimmer, now 29, was terrified. His first impression: "Grumpy old man." But it didn't last.
"As I got to know him, he was one of the greatest mentors you could ever have," Zimmer said. "A brilliant man who always had suggestions on how you could get better. He cared, on and off camera. He was genuine."