There have been many tributes this week to the TV broadcasting legend that was Willard Scott, who passed away over the weekend in his Virginia farm not far from my house. He had an unconventional career and worked for 65 years with NBC, over 30 of those years as the weatherman for the TODAY Show.
I saw him for the first time as a young child and remember sitting on his lap when he was working as Bozo the Clown. He was also the original TV Ronald McDonald. He’s co-hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, traveled the world on assignment for NBC, once delivered the weather dressed as Carmen Miranda (known as the Brazilian Bombshell), was the White House Santa for multiple Presidents, and kissed a pig on camera. People loved him. President George W. Bush even named his cat after him.
I told you his career was unconventional.
So was he.
In the early 1990’s while working at the Fauquier County Public Library in Community Relations, I created a comic book themed invitation, featuring photos of Willard, and sent it to the TODAY Show. In it I asked Willard to promote “our” library during National Library Week (although he had a New York apartment, his farm was in our county).
One day my office phone rang. I answered and heard his familiar voice say, “Hi Diane! It’s Willard…I loved the comic book you sent.”
Before thinking I blurted out, “Oh my God! I sat on your lap when I was five!”
“I thought that was you!” he replied with a laugh that instantly put me at ease.
We had a lovely chat and during Library Week that year he held up a huge photo of our building and not only mentioned us but urged everyone to go get their library cards and enjoy local library events around the country.
What a lovely thing for him to do. I’ve heard many such stories over the years. His kindness, generosity to local charities and how he treated everyone he met – diplomat or janitor – with the same genuine grin, firm handshake, and sincere robust greeting. He loved people and it showed.
Anyone who met him on the street, in the market or at an event left the encounter feeling seen.
The last time I spoke to Willard was in a local deli then called Renee’s. He had already retired from TV and had driven from his farm to do errands in town and grab one of Renee’s famous chicken salad sandwiches before she closed for the day. As I entered the tiny take-out deli building, I saw all 6’3” nearly 300 pounds of him at the counter. He turned around as he heard me enter and flashed his famous grin.
“Hello Sweetheart!” he bellowed. He was dressed in shorts, Ugg boots and a well-loved farm jacket. He was radiant and exuded happiness. It was like I had been greeted by my best friend even though we hadn’t personally spoken for over 20 years and he had no idea who I was. That’s how he greeted everyone in town. He made us all feel like his best friend.
Thank you, Willard Scott, for giving me an early peak into what it means to greet everyone with an open heart, without an agenda and to see their divine essence. You were truly a heart-centered leader.