In 1972, a neighbor's enthusiasm for Sanibel Island fired Willard Scott's curiosity. One drive "down the old dirt road" was all it took, and Southwest Florida became his vacation home. The embodiment of the larger-than-life meteorological personality, Scott first started doing weather in 1968 on an NBC affiliate in Washington, D.C., the area he still calls home. He joined the Today show in 1980 and quickly became a morning institution. These days he's only a twice-a-week presence on the program that made him a household name. But he continues to keep busy as an author, public speaker and advocate for numerous charities, most notably the Alzheimer's Association, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the Salvation Army. For his latest book. If I Knew It Was Going to Be This Much Fun, I Would Have Become a Grandparent First, Scott offers his gregarious take on the joys of grandparenthood.
Q: What's keeping you busy right now?
A: I work Tuesdays and Thursdays [on Today] and I thank God I still have a job. I still do birthday salutes to centenarians, and I'll do the weather every once in a while. I've been with NBC since 1950, and contrary to all the horror stories you hear, they've been good to me.
Q: You started in radio.
A: I still like radio the best. Radio's got imagination; it's creative and fun. You can weave a spell on radio. Television's very complicated.
Q: How often do you get here?
A: Every month for at least four or five days. First we rented a place in South Seas Plantation; that went on for about 10 years. And then I bought a house on Captiva in 1984. But the maintenance was driving us nuts. The Ford dealer [Fort Myers' Sam Galloway] has it now. And it was nice because somebody in Sam's family had owned the property back in the '30s, and he had a picture of an old shack. He made a really big beautiful home out of it. Now we're on Sanibel with a three-bedroom beach house.
Q: Was your home damaged in last summer's hurricanes?
A: We didn't lose a tile. The only thing we had was a couple of holes in the screen over the swimming pool. But we're also about an eighth of a mile from the beach. Thank God there was no flooding; then we would've had a problem.
Q: What are your favorite local haunts?
A: I really love the Mucky Duck and the Bubble Room. On Sanibel, I love Sanibel Steakhouse; I like Windows on the Water-that's a beautiful place to eat. They have a lovely breakfast at the Lighthouse Cafe.I sound like an ad for the tourism department.
Q: Do you miss doing the weather?
A: I really don't. I did it for 23 years and had a wonderful time; and I'd worked pretty much since I was 17 or 18 years old. I wanted to take a little more time to goof off.
Q: And you do some charity work as well.
A: I don't want to sound like a goody two-shoes, but now I'm able to do the things I couldn't do when I was working.
Q: What affected you most about the damage from Hurricane Charley?
A: The totality of it; it was like a nuclear bomb had gone off. It was like someone took a vacuum and sucked it all up. And poor Captiva-the further north you went, the worse it got.
On Sanibel, the storm hit in certain areas and tore rooftops off and took trees down. And then you went down the road a half-mile and it didn't looked like anything had been touched. The selectivity of the storm was crazy. But the worst thing is the tsunami and the mudslides in California.
Q: It was almost biblical.
A: That's exactly the word I use-it's almost biblical. When you talk about 150,000 people dying, it is cataclysmic. The only positive is the way that the whole world has pulled together. Americans are the most generous, loving people in the world. A case like this shows us in our best light.