Remembering Richard E. Hallgren, 1932-2023.

On November 5th, the Nation and the world lost a towering figure. Only a relative handful may have known his name. But all eight billion people worldwide owe Richard Hallgren a debt of thanks every day for his contributions to weather forecasts: predictions and outlooks that provide everyone a measure of health and safety in the face of hazards, that support agricultural production to meet global food needs, that guide water-resource management of rivers and their dams and reservoirs, that optimize solar- and wind-energy capture, and that help detect and predict climate change.

As much as any individual over the last 100 years, Richard Hallgren took weather services in the United States and the world from their rudimentary skill post-World War II to today’s global array of satellite-, radar-, and information technology that meets the increasingly high-stakes, up-to-the minute requirements of the modern world for weather information. Others advanced the vast science and technology making this possible, but Dick’s role was catalytic. He and a handful of collaborators provided the leadership at the highest national and international policy levels needed to put all the bits together and make them work for societal benefit.

He did not build today’s community of practice through top-down command and control. Even in his more senior positions he was never at any point in charge of the whole. Instead he led the hard way – from below. He tirelessly built trust and relationships – not only among his peers but with early-career professionals entering the field. He always started with listening, watching, learning, respect for various viewpoints. From that understanding he developed a great vision, and freely shared it. He understood that weather forecasting for public benefit was an inherently cooperative act, requiring an Enterprise, a sustained collaboration spanning nations, governments, industry, and academia, constantly reinventing itself, comprising not just weather service providers, but also users – and not just in the developed world, but including and benefiting rich and poor alike on every continent. Toward this end he identified and articulated programs and frameworks that made the work of everyone around him more effective, more purposeful, more rewarding, providing them opportunities for personal and career growth even as they served others. He not only oversaw and fostered the creativity and innovation of the period but instilled a set of shared values across the Enterprise – innovation, partnership, unity, service, perseverance, integrity, energy, positivity – that has deepened and should endure for decades to come.

Dick himself took on many roles during his career. He served in the U.S. Air Force. He worked at IBM. He was scientific advisor to the Department of Commerce Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology in 1964, and then worked at the Environmental Science Services Administration (ESSA; 1966–1970) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) headquarters. In 1979 he was named Director of the National Weather Service. From that latter position his specific contributions included, but were not limited to:

-maintaining U.S. (and international) commitment to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization’s work toward free and open exchange of weather data (the technological and social contracts that together form the lifeblood of global weather forecasts).

-modernization and restructuring of the U.S. National Weather Service from top to bottom during the 1980’s.

-formulation of U.S. policies and frameworks accommodating government-private-sector-academic partnerships in the development and communication of weather forecasts. This had many dimensions, but one stands out: his role in strengthening the role of private weather services broadly, and broadcast meteorologists in particular, in delivering critical NWS weather information to the public.

In 1988 he retired from government to take on the executive directorship of the American Meteorological Society, completely transforming that group over the decade of his tenure into an NGO with robust disciplinary reach and capacity matching the needs and maturation of the Enterprise. He strengthened the existing publications program. He expanded the purview of the annual meetings to include major sessions on observing- and information technologies. He added a crucial international dimension to the meetings. He worked with Ira Geer (who, sadly, also recently passed away – on October 23)to create a unique Education Program to equip teachers and support nationwide K-12 geosciences education. He continued the work he’d begun while at the NWS to support broadcast meteorology. But he drew his greatest pride and satisfaction from the money he raised through decades of personal cajoling (and the occasional arm-twisting) for undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships – especially to support minorities and underrepresented groups.

For these accomplishments and others, he was duly showered with awards and honors. These included: a fistful of the highest recognitions available to U.S. government executives; membership in the U.S. National Academy of Engineering; Honorary Membership in the American Meteorological Society; and the International Meteorological Prize of the World Meteorological Organization (its highest honor).

All this said, such formal recognition mattered less to Dick than his accumulated personal relationships – with individual members of his WMO global family and with his NWS and AMS professional community. He selflessly invested countless hours in face-to-face and phone conversations to keep these current. Years of all this wore well: those who came to know Dick the best and the longest liked him the most.

Within that vast set of relationships, Dick particularly treasured his family. To be around Dick was to hear a stream of vignettes about sons Scott and Doug, and daughter Lynette – Dick was always bursting with pride about their latest accomplishments. Above all, he loved and revered his wife Maxine. He admired her many virtues: her strength, courage, wisdom, and her patience (especially with him).  

Dick, you made such a difference in all our lives. Thanks to you, the outlook for our generously-resourced, hazardous, fragile planet Earth is a bit brighter. We’ll do our best to pay it forward.

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23 Responses to Remembering Richard E. Hallgren, 1932-2023.

  1. Laura Furgione says:

    Lovely piece, Bill. I am sharing in your sadness as you remember our dear leader and colleague. Dick was a true gentleman and icon. Many tried to mimic his actions particularly his devotion and work with smaller, developing countries. I think your term “catalytic” summarized it best. My deepest condolences to his family and friends across the globe.

    • William Hooke says:

      Thanks so much, Laura: My abject apologies for being so slow to catch these. Somehow didn’t get any notifications…

  2. Julie Campbell says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for this, Bill. I think my favorite bit included his riddles. I am not sure that I cracked many of them, but they usually ended with him declaring that he was the standard of innocence and purity. With a wink. In our real world he was that and then some. Godspeed, Dick.

  3. Tim Spangler says:

    Great summary Bill. Dick invested a lot in me and the COMET program over many years and I’m eternally grateful. He also helped mentor me on the ways of working with and within WMO. He will be missed. Tim Spangler

  4. Roger Pielke says:

    Thanks Bill

  5. Robert Ryan says:

    Thanks for this beautiful remembrance of Dick Hallgren. It captured the spirit, drive, and great purpose and affection Dick had for our sciences and his family. We were lucky to know Dick and to have you capture what Dick meant to our science and to so many. Thanks to you and to Dick for living in and on our real world.

  6. Susan Avery says:

    Thank you for this wonderful summary of Dick’s legacy. I thoroughly enjoyed working with him during my time on AMS Council – and I admired his ability to get everyone working together as well as his great sense of humor. He will be missed.

  7. Richard Wagoner says:

    Thanks for those eloquent words. Dick was my mentor during all of the years of the NWS modernization. I was always taken aback by how he would take a junior person and gently coach them to take on new tasks. I recall being at the WMO RA-IV meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica. He invited the President of the WMO, other senior and junior folks and the interpreters to his room about 8 pm. We all sat on the floor in a big circle until 1 am, telling stories, jokes and learning about each other’s experiences. That’s how he built support from the bottom as you pointed out. The next day, without any prior notice, just before the meeting started, he looked at me and said, “today you sit at the microphone, you know the issues on the agenda, speak for the U.S. today. I’ll sit behind you if you need assistance, but I don’t think you will.” Again that’s how he nudged ( or pushed!) all of us along. I miss him a lot.

  8. Josh Foster says:

    Thanks, Bill, I remember meeting Dick in Mike Hall’s office (Office of Global Programs at NOAA) in the 1990s, and saw the comradery, attention, and respect with which he was treated. The discussion at the time was about the US Global Change Research Program, among other things, so Dick had a role in developing and guiding that seminal effort as well.

  9. Bob Landis says:

    Great Write-up Bill, As you know many of us owe our career to Dick as well as his help in how we slid into retirement. A true Mentor to me. He will be sorely missed. Bob

  10. Stan Benjamin says:

    Bill, it was a fabulous tribute you wrote for Dick Hallgren. I was inspired to write my own in LinkedIn referring back to yours, which was far better, but as a slightly younger, not-DC person, he was worthy of even more tribute. Thanks so much for reminding us. –

  11. Gregory Withee says:

    I was greatly saddened to learn of the passing of Dick Hallgren. I am very late in discovering this. Bill, such a wonderful tribute to Dick. Like for so many others, he was my mentor as well and I owed him for the guidance for most of my career moves. The world has certainly lost a giant, but fortunately he taught many people to carry on his work. In several of his many discussions with me, he drew out his thoughts on a napkin. I still have one of these, in which he was searching for a one world, one environment organization title. In the end he pushed WMO to cover the oceans, and as much land as possible. He was quite a character. We all loved him. He will be sorely missed.

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