(Editor’s note: This story updates the year in which Howard Morgan came to Albuquerque)
Former KOAT-TV weatherman Howard Morgan was known for the artistic flair he gave to his forecasting.
In the days preceding green screens and computer graphics, he’d dress up his maps and charts on-air with spontaneously drawn doodles, including his “Thermo” character that he regularly integrated into those drawings.
But Morgan was no amateur scribbler with a pen or brush; he was a bona fide artist whose paintings were featured in art shows and galleries, and whose landscapes hang in countless homes.
He was also known for his unflappable personality, radiant smile and his love of gardening, showcased in his “Gardenlore” segments on KOAT and in his three Gardenlore books.
Morgan died early Thursday in a local hospital after a brief illness. He was 91.
Howard Winfield Morgan Jr. was born in Baumstown, Pennsylvania. He joined the Navy right out of high school and after his military service he took a job at KHOL-TV in Nebraska as a graphic artist but transitioned to a weather forecaster. He created his Thermo character on his second day as a forecaster. It was in Nebraska that he met his wife, Phyllis. They had been married 49 years when she died in 2000.
After Nebraska, Morgan worked as a weatherman at a Kansas station before coming to Albuquerque in the mid 1950s, according to one of his daughters. He left KOAT briefly in the late 1960s for a job in Utah, but returned to KOAT in 1971. Thermo came along for the ride.
Many people also remember Morgan’s TV persona “Uncle Howdy” that he used when he hosted children’s shows in the four television markets in which he worked.
Morgan retired in 1999, after a 46-year career. Current chief meteorologist Joe Diaz worked with Morgan for more than a decade.
“Howard was just a class act and a tremendously talented individual,” Diaz said. “He had a passion for life, was a caring and loving family man, and had a great love for New Mexico.”
Diaz noted that it’s often said that “forecasting is all about geography,” and Morgan “knew every nook and cranny in New Mexico’s geography.” That not only aided him in his weather forecasting, but provided him with subject matter for his landscape paintings. One of those paintings hangs in the entryway of Diaz’s home. Other Morgan landscapes graced the yearly Season’s Greetings cards that were sent out by the station, he said.
Another landscape painting hangs above the sofa in former KOAT anchor Jane Metzler’s New Jersey home. She worked with Morgan from 1982 to 1989.
“Howard was always so calm, kind, cool and pleasant to everybody,” she said. “He knew how I struggled with my notorious on-air hairdos and once helpfully suggested I wear a wig. I still laugh about that. … And I still use his gardening books.”
Former KOAT reporter, anchor and eventually president and general manager, Mary Lynn Roper, recalled sitting on the news set flanked by co-anchor Johnny Morris and Howard Morgan, both of whom she called “legends.”
“They both went out of their way to be welcoming, kind, and calming because they were both such easygoing guys, and I was anything but easygoing,” she said. “They really tempered my anxiety, got me to calm down and just focus on the job at hand.”
Morgan, despite his outgoing on-air and public persona, was “an introvert,” Roper said. “When he wasn’t working on weather, he would be in his office drawing or working on his Gardenlore books. He was very self-contained and comfortable with his own company.”
After she became the station’s general manager, Roper said she looked at market research and discovered that “the No. 1 TV personality in the market was Howard.”
That doesn’t surprise Morgan’s daughter Vicki Morgan, who said everybody loved her father.
“He was the most wonderful dad in the world,” she said. “He thought through everything, inside and out.”
When she and her siblings were little, her father “was a little bit strict because that’s the way it was in those days, but he made sure that we had everything we needed.”
In addition to daughter Vicki, Morgan is survived by daughter Yvonne Sandoval and son Gregg Morgan, all of Albuquerque; sons Kent Morgan and Mike Morgan, of Utah; son Mark Morgan of Idaho; 14 grandchildren, 16 great-grandchildren, and one great-great grandchild.
Funeral arrangements are pending.