Norm Lewis' opinion of Baltimore wasn't so great back in 1979, when he was first invited to move here and become a weatherman for one of the local TV stations. He thought it was old and dirty, a little too scruffy and a lot too beaten-up for his tastes.
"But when I got here, I found this gem of a place," Lewis said Wednesday, a day after he announced his retirement after more than 30 years of forecasting the weather on Baltimore's TV airwaves.
His decision to leave was not easy, Lewis says. WMAR management signed him to a four-year contract in January, and he had every intention of honoring it. But things have changed over the past 11 months.
"It just kind of dawned on me, now is the time to let the new guys take over," says Lewis, who turns 65 in April. "It's time to ride off into the sunset and be happy with a very successful career that you enjoyed.
"You get to the point where you realize that life is passing you by. There are so many things I want to do, so many things I want to see. I've been working since I was 16 years old. I want to be able to enjoy a little bit of life."
For more than three decades - 10 years with WBAL followed by 20 years at WMAR - Lewis has been warning Baltimoreans when the snow was going to come, when the winds were going to blow hard, when the temperature was going to rise dangerously high.
He'll be leaving Tuesday, the latest veteran news presence to leave struggling WMAR in the past month. Unlike anchors Mary Beth Marsden and Terry Owens, who took advantage of a company buyout offer, Lewis says he is retiring. "Leaving under my own power," as he puts it. But the effect is the same, as WMAR and its parent company, Cincinnati-based E.W. Scripps Co., try to simultaneously cut costs, adapt to a rapidly changing media climate and climb out of the ratings basement Channel 2 has inhabited for more than a decade.
"Norm has been just all-around incredible," said WMAR News Director Kelly Groft. "He was always very on top of what was happening with the weather, what could happen, how quickly things could change. Norm Lewis is the guy that sleeps on a cot if it's stormy."
Lewis, a native of Connecticut who grew up in Florida and learned meteorology during a four-year stint in the Navy ("I figured they wouldn't be shooting at me in a weather office," he says), has enjoyed a reputation for being unpredictable. He still rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle to work from his Mount Airy home, where he lives with his wife of 25 years, Linda.
When he switched from WBAL to WMAR in 1989, a clause in his WBAL contract kept him off the air for a year, during which time he appeared on promotional commercials with a paper bag over his head, silent and unidentified as soon-to-be colleague Ken Phillips talked about how excited WMAR was to have him.
WBAL anchor Stan Stovall, who worked alongside Lewis at WMAR, praised his drive and professionalism. "The landscape has certainly changed when you lose someone who has that kind of tenure in this town," says Stovall, a veteran of 27 years on Baltimore's airwaves.
"I always used to call him 'Mr. Intensity,' " Stovall says.
Lewis says the love affair with his adopted city began the day he moved here. He's had offers of jobs in bigger markets, he says, but always turned them down. And while he and his wife will probably be moving to Florida within the next year, Baltimore will always remain special.
"I've been an extremely fortunate man," he says. "In this business, if you're someplace five years, you've been there a long time. I have been so blessed by the people of Baltimore accepting me and putting their trust in the forecasts I put