CLEVELAND, Ohio (WJW)– FOX 8 meteorologist Dick Goddard, a man with a warm smile, a fierce intellect, and always a place in his big heart for any animal in need, lived much of his life as a legend in his hometown – yet never forgot his humble beginnings.
Dick’s daughter, Kim, told FOX 8 News her father passed away Tuesday morning. He was 89 years old.
“I’ve been so lucky,” he said, during a wide-ranging interview in 2015, “and people have been so good to me.”
Born in the Depression, February of 1931, Dick grew up in what was then known as Greenberg – what is now the city of Green in Summit County.
An only child, Dick was the center of attention for his parents – Vachel Goddard, a railroad mechanic from southern Ohio, and the former Doris Dickerhoof.
Neither of his parents had finished grade school, but Dick cherished them, and learned a lot from them – including a passionate, lifelong love of animals.
“Any animal that showed up on our farm there near Greenberg, I said, ‘Mom, can we keep it?’ and usually it was yes, but the cow I had to give back.”
An outstanding football and baseball player in high school, Dick, along with four friends, soon wanted to enlist in the military during the Korean War.
His father objected to Dick joining the Marines, but agreed that his son could enlist in the Air Force.
In the service, Dick would take an aptitude test that would change his life.
“One of the things it said I could become was a meteorologist,” he recalled, “and, even though I couldn’t pronounce it, I said ‘okay.’”
Returning from the service, Dick earned a Fine Arts degree from Kent State.
He was talented enough that Disney asked him to come to Hollywood to interview for a job as an artist.
“That same week,” Dick said, “I had an offer to try TV.”
He chose that path, and it would lead to a legendary career in Cleveland that spanned over half a century. But Dick was the first to tell you that it took him some time to get comfortable on television.
“When I first started,” he joked, “my voice was so high that small animals gathered outside the station.”
During that time frame, the early to mid 1960s, weather was almost an afterthought on television newscasts.
But Dick Goddard brought something unusual to the table – as a meteorologist, he was actually qualified to forecast the weather.
And even though he was known for the accuracy of those forecasts, Dick always remained humble about his profession.
“Weather is an educated guess at best,” he said, “and I’m a skeptic.”
He left Cleveland only once, following his employer at the time, Westinghouse, to a bigger job at a station in Philadelphia.
“People there were really nice,” he said, “but it wasn’t home.”
He soon had offers to come home to Cleveland from all three local stations that were on the air at that time.
As a self-proclaimed “sports nut,” Dick was most intrigued by the offer from Channel 8 because it broadcast the Browns games.
“So when Channel 8…offered me a contract, I said ‘let’s do it.’”
He would then become the statistician for the Browns radio broadcasts – a position he loved and held for 43 years.
And it was his love for his only child, his daughter, Kim, that led Dick to start what was originally just a small parade that was created as a PTA fundraiser.
Just a couple hundred people showed up for that first Woollybear parade back in the early 1970s.
Fast forward more than forty years, and today, over 100,000 people travel to Vermilion each fall what is now an iconic event.
It has become one of the largest parades in the nation, and the largest outdoor event in Ohio every year.
More people are routinely at the Woollybear parade than are at Ohio State football games.
“I had no idea it would become this big,” Dick said.
His concept was that the “woollybear”, a worm, could predict the mildness or severity of the coming winter in the fall – rather than having people wait on a groundhog to make a similar prediction in early February of the following year.
The “theory” is that the width of the woollybear’s stripes indicate whether the winter will be mild or severe.
It’s all in good fun, and certainly nothing the meteorologist in Dick would use in a forecast.
“If you believe in Mother Goose, and the Tooth Fairy, you’re with the program,” Dick would say with a smile.
The parade and weekend festival focuses on families, and fun, and the creatures Dick loved his whole life.
“I promote animal welfare, that’s my goal,” he said, “and before I go to the theme park in the sky, I want to do all I can for the four-footers.”
He spent much of his free time – and a lot of his own money – supporting animal charities across Northeast Ohio.
“They can’t speak for themselves,” he would say, “so we have to speak for them.”
Dick traveled to Columbus many times to lobby state lawmakers to pass what became known as “Goddard’s Law” – a provision that strengthened penalties for people convicted of mistreating animals.
A few years ago, the street in front of FOX 8 was renamed “Dick Goddard Way.”
Many local leaders attended a ceremony, including Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, Senator Sherrod Brown, and then Congressman Dennis Kucinich, who brought along a proclamation for Dick from President Barack Obama.
At the ceremony, Dick’s colleague, FOX 8 meteorologist Andre Bernier, told the story of how Dick once got the wrong directions and wound up at a Christmas party where he hadn’t been invited.
So what was the reaction from the people at the party?
“They were thrilled,” Andre said, to laughter, “because everybody knew Dick. They didn’t care that he hadn’t been invited – they were just glad he showed up.”
Dick had that way about him – making people who’d only seen him on television feel like they’d known him for years.
The name change of the street in front of FOX 8 was more than symbolic because, indeed, for those of us who knew him, there was a “Dick Goddard Way.”
Be good at what you do, be kind to others, help those less fortunate than you (whether they have two feet or four), and never think too much of yourself.
“Don’t ever think you know everything,” Dick said, toward the end of one of his last interviews, “the truly educated never graduate. Don’t forget that.”
Dick Goddard will be remembered for a long time in the hometown that he loved so much.
Whether on the air giving all of us an expert forecast during a winter storm, or helping a stray animal by himself, or celebrating life with a hundred thousand of his closest friends at the Woollybear Parade, Dick Goddard did it his way.
And all of us who knew him are a little bit better off for it.