Goodnight, Dr. Mel
It’s seldom that I blog about people. Being a bit of a recluse, I don’t think talking about others is my forte. But today I’m going to break out of that mold and try my damnedest to say something nice about someone I’ve never met. Last night as my husband and I were eating dinner a special program appeared in the slot that’s normally reserved for Jeopardy! Disappointed, my husband started to flip through the channels, searching for something to watch (another Seinfeld rerun … again?) as the special program ran in the small view box. As I watched, I began to realize the special was about a dearly beloved Connecticut meteorologist, Dr. Mel. Had he died? What was going on? I told my husband to put the special on and we proceeded to watch as we ate.
I’ve been living in some part of New England all my life. I settled in Connecticut somewhere in the late 70’s and have been here ever since. To say I’ve grown accustomed to the ups and downs of New England weather should go without mention except for one minor little detail: I haven’t. I used to joke with my siblings and friends that the first sign of “old age” was to start every conversation with an assessment of the day’s (or week’s and month’s) weather. If that’s still a barometer of where I am in my life journey then consider me old, because my fascination (and frustration) with the weather has grown exponentially with age.
When I first moved to Connecticut there was a young(ish) meteorologist who presented the nightly weather with uncanny accuracy. He was a tad geeky, a major criteria for any weatherman, but always optimistic and full of good cheer. It takes a special kind of talent to predict another week of rain (or snow or heatwave) and sound encouraging and upbeat at the same time. But Mel Goldstein had that ability, and his even-Steven, happy-go-lucky temperament wasn’t fake. At first I made fun of him and his goofy grin, how he always smiled as he delivered yet another gloomy report. But as time wore on I began to realize his love for his job was sincere, and his concern for the anonymous mass of people who made up his audience was indeed genuine.
As news and weather reports began to evolve into the frantic, hyperbole that we typically see today, Dr. Mel continued to deliver his message in a calm, conversational tone of voice. He was matter-of-fact, but serious when the need arose, and never gave way to the kind of excessive hype and sensationalism so commonly seen now. That’s not to say Dr. Mel didn’t get excited about his job; he did. In fact, he practically oozed enthusiasm and excitement about even the most ordinary weather. But he didn’t use his forecasts as a platform to win station ratings or popularity contests. He took his job seriously, but was always willing to take a back seat to other important events of the time.
As the special played on I got a glimpse at the many different sides of a man I only knew as the weather reporter. Mel, the husband, father, co-worker, mentor, educator, musician and patient was every bit as caring and gregarious as the man who shared my living room every night. He had an infectious zest for everything he did and his desire to help and encourage others knew no bounds. While he often came across as nerdy and brainy (he admittedly was), he put 110% of his best effort into every assignment, every project he did. When Dr. Mel was sent to report on location he didn’t just look happy to be there, he looked THRILLED …. because he was!
I knew Dr. Mel had been sick for many years, but his drive to keep delivering his weather reports often disguised the seriousness of his illness. By the time I evolved into a weather nerd myself, Dr Mel was gravely ill and battling cancer. I didn’t expect he would live … I don’t think anyone did. But he survived. And where many would have quit their job, wallowed in misery or tried to work their way down their Bucket List, Dr Mel soldered on with his customary optimism and joy. The illness took it’s toll and Dr. Mel aged horribly in the short span of several years. But appearances aside, you never would have known how sick he was. He had the same gusto and charm as always because that’s just who Dr. Mel was. He was Mr. (well, Dr.) Happy To Be Alive!
Dr. Mel never “officially” retired until this fall, and even then he continued to file his personal reports and forecasts. Why? Why would someone who probably had no real need for monetary compensation keep working right up until the day they die? I think it was because we were Dr. Mel’s Bucket List. That’s right. Dr. Mel truly loved what he did so much that he never dreamed of a day when his job might be done.
God broke the mold when He made Dr. Mel. Today, weather reporters masquerade as actors and actresses. They “land planes” as they gesture toward maps they don’t glance at and they hype every event in hopes that we’ll sit glued to our TV instead of our computers. (Yeah, right) They’ve had boob jobs, nose jobs, hair plugs and dental veneers, but their concern for their audience is about as authentic as their Barbie and Ken doll looks. This new breed of forecaster tries to forge a connection with their viewers by babbling at us 24/7 instead of simply reporting the facts and supporting data with clarity and precision. The chances of a meteorologist like Dr. Mel ever getting in front of a camera today is slim to none. Apparently, authenticity is taboo.
I’ll miss Dr. Mel and his nerdy, goofy smile. I’ll miss the gentle, humble Renaissance man who had the natural ability to influence a whole generation of viewers and weather enthusiasts without really trying, but mostly I’ll miss him because he was a truly fantastic human being.
Goodnight, Dr. Mel.