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Slowing pace of life after decades of tracking storms and bad guys

By MICHAEL CANNING

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 15, 2001


For 40 years, Roy Leep was the first name in local weather forecasting, and perhaps the first one blamed when the weather went bad. These days, the pressure's off.

For 40 years, Roy Leep was the first name in local weather forecasting, and perhaps the first one blamed when the weather went bad. These days, the pressure's off.

Four years ago he retired as chief meteorologist and executive weather director for WTVT-Ch. 13, capping 40 years at the station. It is believed to be the longest run in the country of any weather person at one TV station.

Leep says he's doing well at 68, as is his 17-year-old cairn terrier Scud, who appeared with Leep at the end of his late-night broadcasts for the last 10 years of his tenure.

When Leep first went on the air in 1957, he brought a rare level of science and professionalism to TV weather. Over the years, he persuaded management to buy state-of-the-art equipment, which helped maintain his reputation as the industry's pacesetter.

His Tampa Bay area firsts included radar in 1959, satellite pictures in 1966, and high-resolution color satellite pictures and digital graphics in 1979.

In 1988, he added to Tampa's skyline: the 240-foot Skytower Radar, then considered the largest privately owned Doppler radar system in the country. "I was really privileged to build that department," said Leep. "There was nothing like it anywhere in the country."

Now he enjoys watching the weather from his 19th floor balcony overlooking Bayshore Boulevard, and from his home computer system. He travels occasionally to Colorado Springs with his wife, Jane Peek, where she owns an advertising agency. He also teaches Bible study at a small South Tampa church.

Asked about the hurricane season, Leep offered little: "Even though it's been a late start, we probably will have one that might cause us some concern."

That's it?

"You can try to pin me down," Leep said laughing, "but I don't have to be pinned down any more."

* * *

You can take Eduardo Gonzalez out of Florida, but you can't take Florida out of Eduardo Gonzalez. Even when the former Miami police veteran and Tampa police chief was named director of the U.S. Marshals Service in 1993, he was a fish out of water in Washington, D.C.

The 60-year-old Tampa native spent most of his life in Miami, serving 27 years on the Metro-Dade Police Department. He retired as second-in-command before Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman named him police chief in March 1992.

His tenure was short -- just 18 months -- but he was credited with increasing community policing, decreasing the crime rate, and easing the wounds from racially charged civil disturbances in the late '80s.

In Tampa, he was responsible for 1,000 employees and a $56.6-million budget. When at the Marshals Service, it was 3,500 employees and a $333-million budget.

Even though he worked under his longtime friend and colleague, Attorney General Janet Reno, Gonzalez felt overwhelmed by Washington's political cross currents. Gonzalez likened himself to a minor league pitching star who moves up to the majors "and all of a sudden his fastball's not fast enough. His curveball doesn't curve enough."

He felt tied by his inability to suspend or fire district marshals (only the president can do that), and was disheartened by budget cuts near the end of his tenure. But he was proud of increasing deputies and salaries, arresting many of the service's most-wanted fugitives, and opening a marshals' office in Mexico City, the first on foreign soil.

He stepped down in 1999, eager to lead a slower life. He settled in Miami Beach, and traveled throughout Europe and South America with his wife, Marina. They now live in Coral Gables.

Gonzalez says he's heard suggestions that he run with gubernatorial hopeful Bill McBride. But he says, "I'm enjoying being retired."

- Michael Canning can be reached at (813) 226-3408 or canning@sptimes.com.

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