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.