KWTX-TV, Channel 10’s Rusty Garrett has announced his long-range forecast, and it calls for him to retire after the early evening newscast June 28.
The beloved weatherman is wrapping up a 30-year career in Waco, having signed his last contract with the station last summer “after a lot of prayer and a lot of thought.” Garrett, 63, was speaking by phone from the front porch of his home near the Falls County community of Mooreville.
He was watching the rain fall and pondering the day ahead as severe weather threatened, as it so often does in Central Texas during the spring.
“There are at least 16 counties we are responsible for, and we monitor storms until they pass through,” Garrett said. “Nights can be very long, taking us well into the wee morning hours.”
He said he recalls the earlier days of atmospheric science when forecasters used wall maps and L- or H-shaped magnets to discuss cold fronts and high or low pressure systems.
Technology has changed, but not Garrett’s love for the profession. The man who grew up idolizing Channel 5’s Harold Taft, the Fort Worth legend some dubbed the world’s greatest weatherman, thought the opportune time had arrived to “enjoy some freedom.” He said his health is good and jokingly added he did not want to slip into senility while still on the air.
He said he will miss his “family” at KWTX-TV, and the interaction with viewers who have embraced him and shown their love and acceptance “despite my missing more forecasts than I would like to admit.”
Some view weather forecasting as a perfect science, but it most definitely is not, even with exciting technological advancements and computer-enhanced tracking, Garrett said.
“It can get humorous, such as when the little old ladies confront me in the grocery store, their fingers wagging, reminding me that I said Saturday was going to be a beautiful day, but it rained on their garage sale,” Garrett said.
The Victoria native became only the fourth chief forecaster in KWTX’s 64-year TV broadcasting history when he was hired in 1989 to follow Roy Cook, a 19-year veteran at the longtime CBS affiliate. The station then was owned by M.N. “Buddy” Bostick, and Garrett accepted an invitation to meet with former station manager Ray Deaver and then-KWTX chief executive Tom Pears to talk about a vacancy. The rendezvous took place at Leo’s Town Cafe, halfway between Waco and Lufkin, where Garrett was employed.
The job offer and the Waco market were head-turners, he said.
“All I ever asked was that they take care of me financially,” Garrett said. “I thought, ‘Waco is an hour-and-a-half from Austin and an hour-and-a-half from Dallas.’ That was a pretty big deal to me. I really had no aspirations to leave Waco, to move into a larger market. I was just thrilled to move to a town that had a 24-hour H-E-B.”
The rest, as Garrett said, is history. He became the forecasting face for Waco’s dominant television station. He evolved into the Marine Toys for Tots point person, kindly pestering viewers to generously fill the studio with new or gently used items for the less fortunate. He plugged canned food drives, and with wife Ann hosted exotic cruises and trips sponsored by an international travel company, something he hopes to continue into retirement.
“Holiday Vacations out of Wisconsin, working through station management, asked my wife and I to put together these trips twice a year, and they didn’t have to twist my arm,” he said. “We’ve been all over the world since 2009.”
Then there is “Project Tornado,” Garrett’s efforts to bring life-saving information to students in classrooms across Central Texas.
Garrett said he broke his parents’ hearts when, as a young man, he moved from Victoria to Corpus Christi to take a radio DJ position. His father worked 34 years for Southwestern Bell and had something similar in mind for Rusty.
“They worried about me every day,” Garrett said. “Dad was always saying, ‘Hey, I know someone there with the phone company, if you’re interested.’ They knew I was not making much money, but I loved what I was doing, stuck with the radio station.”
His love for broadcasting and fascination with weather later took him to TV stints in Lufkin, Longview and Tyler.
In addition to his admiration for the work of KXAS-TV’s Harold Taft, longtime Channel 8 weatherman Troy Dungan, a Dallas-Fort Worth fixture known for his ever-changing bow ties, became a friend and mentor.
“I watched him and learned so much about presentation, style, never realizing I would ever get to meet him,” Garrett said. “We’ve become close friends and keep in touch on a regular basis. I also loved Tom Skilling, with WGN in Chicago.”
Locally, he has been blessed to have colleagues such as Gordon Collier and Julie Hays, among others, “whom I love to pieces,” he said.
He said the weather team at KWTX-TV has become a station strength, making his decision to leave a little easier. He said KWTX plans soon to announce his full-time replacement, and he chose not to speculate ahead of time.
Collier has known Garrett since both joined KWTX-TV in 1989, “when he had red hair and I had a full head of hair,” Collier said with a laugh.
“What makes Rusty such an icon in this business and in this market is he’s real,” Collier said. “What you see is what you get. He doesn’t have to pretend to care about the people of Central Texas because he does. He’s transparent in everything he does. … Rusty is passionate about everything he does, be it preparing for a weather forecast or working with Food for Families, or putting presents under the Christmas tree. It’s all or nothing with him.”
An announcement on the KWTX website states Garrett is an active Mason, and his son, Will, is a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant.
Garrett said he will fill in occasionally at the station when vacations trim the weather staff, but he looks forward to not wearing a suit every day.
“In my life, he will go down as one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Collier said. “Not only is he the backbone of our on-air news team and the most recognized KWTX personality, he’s also a pillar in the community. … If I ever grow up, I want to be just like Rusty Garrett.”