NORMAN — Shortly after 8 p.m. when the May 31 El Reno tornado carved a path of death and destruction through western Oklahoma County, television meteorologist Gary England called his wife, Mary, to pick him up a few hours early from the station.
In the car, after 40 years of weather forecasting, storm chasing and station promotions that included riding horses, elephants and untrained bulls, he told her his life on the Oklahoma airwaves was over.
“I just didn’t want to do it any more,” England told Norman Chamber of Commerce members. “All that death and destruction ....”
The massive, 2.6 mile wide EF-5, came just 11 days after another EF-5 struck in Moore. His dream job, aimed for since the seventh grade in Seiling, Okla., would come to an end in 2013. It was quite a ride, he said, encouraging chamber members to never give up on their own aspirations.
“Keep living your dream because I am living proof that dreams come true,” he said.
England delighted the chamber luncheon audience of nearly 200 with tales of joining the Navy at age 17, the courtship of his wife, Mary, (“Boy, was she a prude,” he joked), a wild night on the Southwestern State University campus in Weatherford and a series of jobs, some of which involved meteorology.
He also described his time at the University of Oklahoma as tough.
“I believed in staying out late, drinking lots of beer and not going to class,” he said. OU, he said, was “hard to get into and hard to get out of.”
Early in his Channel 9 television career, England said he didn’t know much about tornadoes.
“But you learn very quickly when your life depends on it,” he said, noting the May, 1999, tornadoes were a seminal event for television meteorologists. “No one really knew what was going to happen that day.”
England’s talk followed a presentation by a staff member of the National Weather Center and praise for the local weather industry by Andy Sherrer, chamber chairman. An estimated 1,000 area residents are employed in government, academic or private weather concerns.
Daphne Thompson said the National Weather Center, anchor tenant on OU’s Research Campus, draws between 30,000 to 50,000 visitors a year.
“You have no idea how many people come through Norman on their vacations just to see the Weather Center,” she said.
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