When many of us get up in the morning to start our day, the first thing we do is pour a steaming-hot cup of Joe and turn on the morning news. Especially here in Michigan, the first thing we want to know is what the weather will be like for our morning commute to work. And many Greater Flint residents have relied on the familiar face of John McMurray, longtime ABC12 News meteorologist, for up-to-the-minute weather info. Last month, John retired after working for Channel 12 off and on for 47 years.
A New York native (evidenced by a heavy, New England accent), John met his childhood sweetheart, Mary Ellen, on the subway during their commute to different schools. They married and have raised three children. He studied meteorology at New York State Maritime College, a small college in the Bronx, graduating in 1964. John then spent seven months on a merchant ship, seeing much of the world. “I’ve been in every major port from Copenhagen all the way to the Mediterranean.”
From 1965-1969, John was a Flight Meteorologist in the U.S. Air Force, briefing pilots about the weather conditions before their departures. The Air Force, which was in need of meteorologists, had a deal in which he could work for a year, and would then have a job in which he could use his degree. He was stationed in Oklahoma, and as he and his wife were driving from Tulsa toward Enid, the temperature outside was already 85 degrees. “We looked at each other and said, ‘I think we made a big mistake!’” But they learned to love the people there and the community, and stayed for over four years.
After leaving the air force, John and his family moved to grand blanc where he began working as a meteorologist.
Oklahoma is known for its volatile weather and John remembers a day when he watched severe weather broadcasts on three different local news stations. There were three tornadoes on the ground that completely leveled houses on one side of the street, just three or four blocks from where he and Mary Ellen they lived. “I’ve never forgotten it and it was 50 years ago,” he shares. He also began to think how fascinating a job as a TV meteorologist would be.
After leaving the Air Force, John started looking for a job and hoped to find a meteorologist position in the Northeast because of his regional dialect. The first that was available was at WJRT in Flint, and he interviewed at a station in Providence Rhode Island – its sister station. One of four people who applied for the job, he prepared diligently for his interview. It paid off, and he got the job. “They asked if I knew where Flint, MI was,” John remembers, “and I told them I did not; but I knew where every Air Force Base in the world was, so I could probably find it.” In 1969, he and his family moved to the Grand Blanc area where they’ve been ever since.
For the next 40-plus years, Channel 12 viewers looked to John for the weather report. Having seen many severe events – tornadoes, major rain, snow and ice storms – it was important for him to communicate info to the public and maintain a composed demeanor. “Reporting severe weather is the most intense part of the business,” he says.
Over his decades as a meteorologist, John saw many changes. When he first started, there were only evening newscasts. “There was no such thing as early morning news,” he continues, “but eventually, more and more people wanted to know about weather conditions first thing in the morning.” Back then, all of the weather data was communicated by a teletype machine and would have to be interpreted. “Those old teletypes rattled 24 hours a day,” he remembers. “Of course, everything is computerized and on the Internet now, and the delivery is entirely different.”
John has also worn many other hats during his long and very rewarding career. For the past ten years, he has taught meteorology classes every Thursday at Saginaw Valley State University. “College students have no concept of what a teletype machine is,” he says with a smile, “or about life without a cell phone.” He plans to continue teaching, and has also worked since 1972 at News Talk 760 WJR-AM radio, a job he hadn’t done before. “Never having done something before has never stopped me from trying,” he says. Also between jobs at the news stations, he started his own weather consulting business, working with attorneys to reconstruct accident details and determine how weather may have been a factor. “I’m still doing that work,” he says. “I would go crazy if I didn’t have 14 projects going.”
On April Fool’s Day, many people attended a retirement party for John to wish him well. “It was jam-packed!” he exclaims. “I will miss interacting with the people at the station.” As for future plans, he must first complete the items on his wife’s “honey do” list. An avid sailor, he also plans to enjoy long weekends with his family, sailing his boat on Saginaw Bay and on up to Lake Huron. What John won’t miss is getting up in the wee hours of the morning to be at the station by 2:15am preparing his morning weather report. “It is very enjoyable getting up at a more reasonable time,” he laughs.
About ten years ago, as his son was graduating from high school and trying to figure out what to do with his life, he asked his dad: have you done everything you wanted to do? “I stopped and thought about it for a minute,” he recalls. “I went to school, got married, served at sea, loved my work, raised three children and started my own business. I really have done everything I wanted to do in life,” says John. “There are no regrets.”
Photography by Eric Dutro