Dr. Mel Goldstein had plans for the weeks ahead, cancer or no cancer. They included giving his daily weather reports on two radio stations and organizing a radiothon to benefit Connecticut Hospice in Branford.
But on Wednesday, the 66-year-old former WTNH-TV meteorologist died atYale-New Haven Hospital, 16 years after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma.
"We not only lost a great journalist today, but a great humanitarian and close friend," Mark Higgins, WTNH vice president and general manager, said Wednesday. "He was one of a kind. We are deeply saddened. He was a friend."
Goldstein, one of the state's most popular weather personalities, worked for Channel 8 for a quarter of a century before retiring in August. He also wrote a weather column for The Courant for nearly 20 years, the last one appearing on Oct. 9, 2005.
As word of his death began to circulate late Wednesday morning, there was an outpouring of sentiment for the personable weatherman best known because of his TV career, but who was also an author, weather scholar and Western Connecticut State University professor.
"We thought he was doing better and were shocked when we got the call this morning," said longtime friend and co-worker Gary Lessor. Lessor, who had interned for Goldstein and then worked as his assistant at the Western Connecticut State University Weather Center, said Goldstein had been admitted to the hospital but was reportedly doing better and was kept there Tuesday night for observation. Lessor, who, with Goldstein, was doing daily weather forecasts on radio stations WQUN and WLAD, said he had expected Goldstein to be back on the air next week.
"I'm shocked," said Lessor. "He had been such a fighter for so long."
As was his style with so many aspects of his life, Goldstein turned challenges, like his battle against cancer, into something positive. Goldstein, who wrote several books on weather, donated proceeds to cancer research. He participated in medical trials in the hope that the experiments would lead to better treatments for cancer patients. He even donated a portion of his hip for research.
He had recently received respite care at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, and upon returning home talked to Diane Smith, a former co-worker, TV personality, producer and author, about doing a fundraiser for the facility.
"He had it planned and asked me to co-host a radiothon in March at WQUN with him," said Smith, who had talked with Goldstein Saturday. Smith said Goldstein's idea was not so much to raise money for the hospice but to raise awareness of what the facility provides to cancer patients.
Goldstein loved to tell the tale of how he never planned to be a TV personality. Before his TV days, he was a teacher at Western, where he developed the Weather Center and established the first bachelor's degree program in meteorology in Connecticut. He also developed a severe-storm prediction index used by electric utilities across the country. A similar version, called Dr. Mel's Storm Predictor, is used by Channel 8's weather staff.
"What people loved about him was that he was a scientist, not a TV personality," Smith said. "With Dr. Mel you knew it was his own work and his own reporting. He considered himself an accidental broadcaster and I think that is why he was so good at it. He wasn't fancy and he wasn't eye candy. He was the genuine deal."
Known for his optimism, Goldstein repeatedly insisted that having the disease improved his life because it made him aware, and appreciative, of every moment of the day.
"He had a smile every day, no matter what kind of pain he was in," said WTNH anchor Keith Kountz, who worked with Goldstein at the station for more than 20 years. "That was the kind of guy he was. Always in the happy place. He didn't let the cancer stop him."
Among those offering condolences were Gov.Dannel P. Malloyand Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman.
"Dr. Mel was more than a meteorologist — with his charming character, warm smile and friendly personality, he became an icon in Connecticut and was loved by many," they said in a joint, prepared statement. "Over the years, he entered the homes of millions of residents and in many ways became a member of our own families. He dedicated his working life to ensuring that the residents of Connecticut were prepared for whatever tumultuous weather system may approach, and for that we are forever thankful. In true Dr. Mel fashion, he always handled himself with grace and dignity. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family, friends and staff at WTNH. He will be missed."
Goldstein loved to tell tales about how he fell in love with the weather. He told The Courant two years ago that he was 5 years old and watching "Superman" on TV in his home outside of Boston when the weather bug bit.
"All of a sudden I heard all this noise outside," Goldstein recalled. "It was the middle of summer. And I looked outside and couldn't believe what I saw. Ice was falling from the sky. It was hailing. I ran outside, and the ground was covered with ice. I thought this was the most fascinating thing I'd ever seen. From that point on, I was always looking at the sky, trying to figure out what was moving and why."
There was some interesting weather going on, and Goldstein was running from window to window to watch it. "What's wrong with that guy?" Furey remembered the desk clerk asking him.
"Nothing, he's just into weather," Furey responded.
One of Goldstein's last public appearances was in Hartford in October when he, with his wife, Arlene, by his side, was honored by the Connecticut Broadcaster's Association with the CBS Lifetime Achievement Award. Goldstein is also survived by two daughters, Laura and Melodie.
"I never thought of myself as a celebrity, I just did what I did best, talk about the weather," Goldstein said at the time. "I fell into the job of broadcasting, it was never something I planned but it's been quite a career."
A humble man, Goldstein was true to form in his retirement statement.
"I mainly want to be remembered as I am — honest, helpful to others, always around when needed. I can't think of a better tribute than that, and it is something for which I will always be grateful. I have worked hard in an area that I truly love, and I will likely continue in some weather venue until I no longer have the energy to do so.''
•Funeral services for Goldstein will be Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the Robert E. Shure Funeral Home in New Haven.
•Courant staff writer David Owens contributed to this story.