Remembering Don Welch: 1942-2017

Don Welch on WTVC in 1983

The obituary for Don Welch, including information on a public gathering to remember and celebrate his life, is at the conclusion of this tribute.

Here is my video tribute to Don’s life and career:

Here is a beautiful thank you from Sammie Welch, to all of you who have written such nice things about Don:

“David, as I read this beautiful tribute my heart was filled with so many emotions. I cried and smiled. I don’t think Don knew how much he was loved and respected. I have been reading all the comments and they fill my heart with joy. Don fought a long, brave battle against this horrible disease, Lewy Body Dementia. I take comfort in knowing that he is home and his body is healed. That big booming voice is back. I can’t imagine how my life is going to be without him. He was and is the love of my life, my soulmate, my best friend. Thank you to everyone who loved my husband. It was a pleasure sharing him with you.”

Love, Sammie

Chattanooga, October 16, 2017

We’ve lost a great smile. The life of the party. A man with a booming laugh, whose enthusiasm was contagious. “Hey there, Hi there, Ho there!” “Stay classy, Chattanooga!” Don Welch has passed away at the age of 75, ending his battle with Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. The illnesses gradually took away his mobility, but never his sunshine.

Don Welch, circa 1960

Don had a personality that could not be contained within the confines of a radio, or a television.  To fully appreciate his charisma, one needed to share a room with him, or even better, the great outdoors.

Don Welch on WDXB radio, circa 1964

The Dayton, Tenn. native first made his mark in Chattanooga broadcasting in the 1960s, as a news reader and disc jockey on WDXB radio.  Jerry Lingerfelt was in charge of hiring and firing, and got to know Don well, hiring and firing him numerous times.

He remembers one of Don’s more memorable farewells.  “I came in one day, and Don had left a pile of his equipment on my desk, with a handwritten note, saying ‘I Quit!’ That’s just Don,” Lingerfelt said.

Don’s most famous goodbye would come in 1989, when his performance on the news, made the news.  It’s a story he enjoyed retelling the rest of his life. He had left Chattanooga the previous year, after working 20 years at all three TV stations at one time or another.  Nashville had come calling, in need of a weekend weatherman.  WTVF, the CBS station had heard of his folksy persona, so Don accepted their invitation to move up to Music City.  The good times lasted ten months.  There were disagreements over clothing and hairstyles, and one night during the live newscast, Don had had enough.  Saying he felt “squashed, persecuted and kicked in the teeth” by station management, he looked into the camera and said, “Folks, have you ever been backed into a corner and they thought you were going to take it?”  He was just getting warmed up.  The camera crew froze.  Is this really happening?  Is this some kind of a joke?

He went on. “Well, that’s what’s happened to yours truly here at Channel 5.  I’ve been put in a position by management that I cannot accept, and I will not live with.  So this will be the last time you’ll see Don Welch in Nashville.”  With that, he walked off the set, leaving the stunned anchorman to say, “We’ll be right back!”  The Associated Press picked up the story, and the tale of the weatherman’s live-TV walkout went national.

Within days, he was back on the air in Chattanooga, where he stayed until his retirement in 2014.

Don’s 52-year broadcast career was a rollercoaster ride, and he took a few detours along the way.  After leaving WDXB radio for the last time in 1967, he became an announcer at WRCB Channel 3.  Here is his station ID that played at the top of the hour for several years:

Then-news director Fred Gault said, “He was hired to read commercials, and worked his way into the control room where he learned to direct newscasts.”  Yes, Don was deciding which cameras anchorman Mort Lloyd and weatherman John Gray would be looking into.  One day, they needed somebody to fill in doing the weather, and Don figured, “I can talk my way through anything, I can do this too.” Don also reported and filmed news stories. Fred said, “I remember sending Don as a cameraman with Allen Jones as the reporter out in the morning expecting them to file multiple reports for the evening news. They would generally come back with ONE story. Allen claimed it was because Don wanted to talk with everyone he came in contact with. I believed him.”

1975 TV Guide ad

For eight years, did a little bit of everything on Channel 3, eventually becoming the regular weekday weatherman. He also hosted the afternoon “Dialing For Dollars” movie contest. Even then, he was taking pipefitting classes after work.

In 1975, WTVC Channel 9’s new general manager Jane Grams was determined to get the station out of last place in news, where it had been since 1958.  The station had selected Darrell Patterson as its new sports anchor, then hired Bob Johnson as news anchor, but needed a weather personality to complete the new team. Patterson knew Welch from their radio days, and told Channel 9 managers he had found the missing piece. They hired Welch away from Channel 3, and suddenly the last-place news station started getting some attention.

WTVC ad, 1976

The new anchor team clicked immediately.  To this day, they’re compared to the Will Ferrell “Anchorman” movie characters of the 1970s. Welch was 33, five years older than Johnson, and seven years older than Patterson, so one would assume he would provide some maturity for his younger teammates.  Not a chance! Instead, he led these merry Musketeers on a nightly ride of on-air chaos and some off-air fun too.

Don Welch and Bob Johnson on the WTVC news set in 1976

While the other channels stuck with their straight-faced style of delivering the news, the Channel 9 crew poked each other like wayward frat boys.

Some called it “happy talk,” but Bob, Darrell and Don chalked it up to natural chemistry.  “I’d talk about wooly worms and Grandpappy’s weather lore, and get it right more often than the certified meteorologists,” Welch said. “One time Bob asked me if it would rain tomorrow, so I got out my lucky quarter, flipped the coin, and tails said no.  It didn’t rain, so we kept using that quarter.  Finally some manager made me stop doing that, I don’t know why!”

The Bob-Don-Darrell team was only in place for about five years, but Channel 9 got out of the ratings basement, and many viewers still remember the trio fondly, calling them “The Three Musketeers.”

Don left TV for two years to work as a pipefitter (“a real job,” he called it), and was lured back by Channel 12 after Harry Thornton retired from hosting “The Morning Show” in 1982.  Co-host Judy Corn needed a new sparring partner, and Don accepted the challenge.

Don Welch and Judy Corn on WDEF “Morning Show” in 1982

Don worked at Channel 12 for six months, but soon returned to Channel 9 where he would host various morning and midday shows, interrupted briefly by his move to Nashville.

Don returned to radio for a while in the late 1980s, with a super-sized beard, joining Garry Mac and Bill Lockhart in the WGOW lineup.

During his most recent stint at Channel 9, he hosted morning and midday shows, and did popular feature reports called “Sideroads.”

Photo by John Creel

He also found time to be a Shriner, and a snare drummer for Highlander Pipes and Drums. He proudly played at Luther Masingill’s memorial service in 2014.

Don visiting Channel 3 in 2014

Don Welch’s hearty laugh, big smile and folksy weather wisdom will long be remembered, as will his various fashion choices and hairstyles, ranging from buzz-cut, to Tony Orlando, to Santa Claus.

His wife of 30 years, Sammie, was a constant presence by his side during his illness.  During his final days, she said, “He is my life, my breath, my soulmate. My heart is broken.”

The “Three Musketeers” Darrell Patterson, Bob Johnson, and Don Welch in 2007

During my visits with Don at health care facilities in recent months, I was impressed by his unwavering spirit.  The nurses and attendants seemed starstruck when he would wheel over to exchange jokes and wisecracks. “I grew up watching you,” they would tell him. “You’re like family.” One of them told Sammie, “I probably shouldn’t tell him this, but I’ve always thought he was so sexy.” Sammie laughed and said, “Oh, go ahead and tell him.  He’ll love it.  Besides, a lot of women think he’s sexy.  He won’t mind one bit!” Soon there was more laughter.

Sammie and Don in 2011

Until the very end, with his distinctive voice, infectious smile, and a hint of mischief in his eyes, Don Welch charmed us all.  Those of us who knew him, and those who only watched him, will be telling “Welch stories” as long as we live.  And as Sammie said, he won’t mind one bit.

WRCB reunion in 2014: seated are Jackie (Schulten) Bolton and Neal Kassebaum. Standing: David Carroll, Don Welch, David Hirt, Jerry Wilson and Bob Young.

Emmitt N. “Don” Welch, Jr., passed away peacefully at his Hixson home, surrounded by family, on Sunday, October 15, 2017.

He was born on March 10, 1942, in Dayton, Tennessee, the son of the late Emmitt, Sr. and Mildred White Welch.

Don enjoyed a 52 year career as a broadcaster in the Chattanooga area working with WTVC News Channel 9 where he was affectionately known as “Grandpappy Welch”. Don also hosted Good Morning Chattanooga for many years and ended his career as host of This N That with Don Welch. He retired from the business he loved on April 23, 2014.

Don loved Chattanooga and was very active in many associations and clubs throughout the area. He was a 32nd Degree Mason and held memberships with the York Rite, the Scottish Rite, and the Alahambra Shrine. He was also active in the Royal Order of Jesters, Court 39, as well as, the Highlander Drum and Pipe Band. Don also served on the board for CADAS, the Hamilton County Beer Board and served as a former board member of Goodwill.

In addition to his parents, Don was also preceded in death by his mother-in-law, Muriel Donna McCoy.

Survivors include his wife, Sammie McCoy Welch; children, Cyndi (David) Finley, Stefannie Welch and Mitzi (Slate) Boyd; grandchildren, Ariel (Chad) Brunk, Logan (Ashton) Finley, Olivia and Jake Fuqua and Paytin Boyd; brother, Jack (Jody) Welch; and several nieces and nephews.

A public gathering to remember and celebrate his life will be held on Friday, October 20, 2017, from 4:00-8:00 pm at Hamilton Funeral Home, Hixson Pike.

A private family service and committal will be held at a later date.
Those desiring may make a contribution, in Don’s name, to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Contributions may be made online at www.michaeljfox.org or by mail, Foundation Processing, Michael J. Fox Foundation, Post Office Box 5014, Hagerstown, MD 21741-5014.

Arrangements are by Hamilton Funeral Home & Cremation Services; 4506 Hixson Pike. 423-531-3975

About David Carroll

David Carroll is a longtime Chattanooga radio and TV broadcaster, and has anchored the evening news on WRCB-TV since 1987. He is the author of "Chattanooga Radio & Television" published by Arcadia.

55 thoughts on “Remembering Don Welch: 1942-2017

    1. Myra J. rosser

      So sorry to hear this about Don-he was one great fells and always made you smile! Prayers for his family-go fly high Don you have earned your wings!

      Reply
  1. Andrea Perry

    Thank you, David. I’m full of mixed emotions right now but this has put a smile on my face as I fight back the tears. Pappy Welch will certainly be missed.

    Reply
  2. Carla Achey

    I met Don and Sammie and they are both great people. My dad worked woth Don/Emmit at Local 43 and he will be missed by everyone. Sending prayers for Sammie. Chattanooga will never be the same.

    Reply
  3. Belinda Winslett

    David, this was a wonderful tribute to Don. It’s so fun to see and remember his past weatherman days. Thank you for sharing.
    Thank you Don for all the wonderful happy memories. You were loved and are missed💔

    Reply
    1. Regina Swanson

      We live in Murphy, NC we loved Don! His humor, big smile, just being himself. So loved by many. So sorry to hear he has passed. PRAYERS for the family… sincerely Regina Swanson.

      Reply
  4. Barbara Rice

    Don will always be remembered as our down to earth person. I enjoyed him in every position he had. He will be missed! Thank you David for telling us his life story! RIP Don!

    Reply
  5. Carole Johnson

    What a true Chattanooga treasure! Don was a down to earth person and just so fun to be around! My husband knew him as a pipe fitter, I grew up watching him on TV, and later met him through his daughter, my good friend. He will be truly missed but he was one man truly loved by so many! Love ya, Don!❤️

    Reply
  6. Pamela Scott

    He was one of my favorites and make us smile everyday
    Your at peace now Don
    Sammie my heart breaks for you I lost my soulmate 16 months ago it doesn’t get any easy you just make it day by day

    Reply
  7. Jan Vaughn

    Wonderful tribute to a remarkable man. I remember his pipe fitter days when I was in TVA HR. He had a wit extraordinaire. Prayers for the family.

    Reply
  8. Dana herring

    I met Don Welch when I was in fifth grade. He came to my elementary school to talk about weather. I just thought he was so funny and just friendly as can be. I have pictures of him that I sent. I always wanted to meet back up with him to show him the pictures.. never got the chance. I hope he was able to see them. I am now 43 and it was so fun that day. Rip Don welch. You will be missed.

    Reply
  9. Ron Coffman

    R.I.P. Mr Don Welch…. You will be missed but not forgotten …..Our hearts and Prayers go out to your Family …..

    Reply
  10. Bill McCallie

    Don Welch was a favorite of mine. He was always happy and in a good mood. I played music for him on many occasions on his morning show. It was so early in the morning and we always had a gig somewhere the night before, I told him several times that we
    all look so rough because we slept in the car, rather than go home. We looked so bad , he believed me. I never told him I was lying to him. Chattanooga will miss Don Welch. He was one of a kind person. Readers Digest called people like Don Welch “Characters I have met”……that’s Don, one of my favorite characters. RIP Don Welch.

    Reply
  11. Michael Noone

    David,Thank You for the Tribute to Grandpappy Don Welch,who will be missed,and I’m sure he is giving another Media Icon,Dr.B Gary Haskew,a hard time in Heaven,about how Bad Alabama,is going to Beat The Big Orange,again this Year,once again.I use to Love when Don would do his annual TN./Bama show,the day before the game,and would have him,Bama Jean,and soo many fans,on the GMC,to cut up and talk about the game! Prayers for his Family!

    Reply
  12. Brian Watson

    Thank you David. Im sorry sorry about this. Being born in 1969 Don has been a part of my entire life. Seeing this news hurts the heart. Didn’t know he was ill and was shocked even when he retired. Don as you say was always the life of a room it seemed. Not the one you ever think of leaving the world. He will never be forgotten that is for sure. The news is sad and seeing his retirement announcement video is sadder now knowing he was sick was why he retired most likely. We are better for having him if not in our life personally then at least on our tv sets. Rest well Don Welch. Thoughts and prayers to his family and loved ones and friends.

    Such a tough thing to see today.

    Reply
  13. Kent Teffeteller

    I am in shock, David. Don Welch and his witty humor made me laugh and have sunshine during many a difficult day. He always was friendly when I saw him out and about, and always a class act. I knew he was going through difficult times physically, and this announcement of his passing would come. First Luther and now Don Welch. Too much demise of key Chattanooga announcers which were beloved. Thanks, David for your own contributions and your chronicles of Chattanooga Radio and TV history, this gimpy radio engineer and historian enjoys them. Don Welch will never be forgotten by all he came in contact with, in person, and those who listened to and watched him. He was honest and told it like it was up front, and a man of class and integrity. A gentleman. A giant, and never forgot where he came from.

    Reply
  14. Pat Bishop

    David that was beautiful. You brought out so many things that I did not know. Praying for his wife and family. Thank you again for this nice tribute.

    Pat Bishop
    Ringgold GA

    Reply
  15. Teresa Bryant

    Don will be greatly missed. My Father and I have had the privilege of spending time with Him off and on the air. He was someone you would never forget. His humor and smile took over wherever he was.
    Praying for Sammie and family.

    Reply
  16. Mary

    Thanks David, for giving such a wonderful tribute. Also thanks for the memories of years gone by. I came to Chattanooga first in 1948 with my father and fell in love with it. I was 15. Thankfully I have gotten my wish and lived here since 1972. Sorry for the loss of Don Welch, condolences to his family.

    Reply
  17. Mary

    Thanks David, for giving such a wonderful tribute. Also thanks for the memories of years gone by. I came to Chattanooga first in 1948 with my dad and fell in love with it. I was 15. Thankfully I have gotten my wish and lived here since 1972. Sorry for the loss of Don Welch, condolences to his family.

    Reply
  18. Fred Gault

    I was one of those people who tried to supervise Don Welch. He came into the Channel 3 newsroom a rough-edged voice talent. He soon blossomed into a wonderful photographer/reporter who was liked and often loved by all. I remember sending Don as a cameraman with Allen Jones as the reporter out in the morning expecting them to file multiple reports for the evening news. They would generally come back with ONE story. Allen claimed it was because Don wanted to talk with everyone he came in contact with. I believed him. Don was a unique and special person especially for those of us who worked with or near him. He was not afraid of any story. His death chips away at the legacy of personalities who not only were solid news people but likeable human beings. Thanks David for reminding us of Don’s body of work.

    Reply
  19. Cliff Duggan

    I remember Don from our pipefitting days. Our original L.U. #43 plumbing and Pipefitting classes were held at the old and long gone Kirkman High School before it was moved to Riverside Drive. Class started at 6 in the evenings but Don didn’t get there until about 6:25 because he had to do Channel 3’s weather first but he was usually setting in the chair beside me before the local evening news was even over. I asked him about great grandpappy welch and why he always brought him up sometimes during his segment. He explained that he had to give the weather posted from the national weather service in Nashville and if it was going to be stormy or snowy he knew that our mountains and valleys could affect that forecast. So in those cases he preferred to use Lovell Fields forecast to be more locally correct. And that is who “Grandpappy Welch” was, it was Lovell Field. We have lost a great local personality and I wish his family the best and my heartfelt condolences in this time of loss.

    Reply
  20. D Hancock

    He was a great man and I can remember him very well. Growing up n the 60s and 70,s .My parents always watched Don.Then I marry and he is a neighbor to my in-laws.Prayers to this great family.From David and Debbie Hancock.

    Reply
  21. PAM JACKSON

    ANOTHER ALL AMERICAN ICON’S VOICE HAS BEEN SILENCED. I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HIS GRAND PAPPY WELCH’S FORECASTS. NOW HE’S UP THERE CRACKIN’ JOKES WITH MARY ELLEN. THEY ARE WATCHING OVER ALL OF US. DON MAYBE GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN. THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS FOR HIS FAMILY…….RIP GRAND PAPPY…………SEE YOU AGAIN.

    Reply
  22. Victoria. Hatter

    I. Was. Born. In. 1975. When. Don. Erich. First. Started the. Older I. Got. I.rember. him. And. Bob Johnson. And. Darrell. Paterson. He. Was. A. Very. Sweet. Man. He. Will. Be. Sadly. Missed

    Reply
  23. Melody Edwards

    So sorry for the loss. I enjoyed his laughter and wit. I lost my husband at 60 yrs of age with Parkinson’s and I knew just by watching Mr. Welch that he suffered from this disease. My heart still morns for my husband and today I morn with you on Don’s passing. Don reminded me of my Jerry for they had the same wit and funny, crazy ways and too, the white beard. Another Angel added to God’s chor and yes, that contagious laugh. GOD BLESS!

    Reply
  24. Melody Edwards

    So sorry for the loss. I enjoyed his laughter and wit. I lost my husband at 60 yrs of age with Parkinson’s and I knew just by watching Mr. Welch that he suffered from this disease. My heart still morns for my husband and today I morn with you on Don’s passing. Don reminded me of my Jerry for they had the same wit and funny, crazy ways and too, the white beard. Another Angel added to God’s choir and yes, that contagious laugh. GOD BLESS!

    Reply
  25. Tutti Harris

    Thank you David, for the one last walk through Don’s beautiful life. I met him several times and loved word that came from him. He was definitely one of a kind. You always do such a wonderful memory trip David. Thank you again. My love and prayers with Don’s family.

    Reply
  26. Sammie McCoy Welvh

    David, has I read this beautiful tribute my heart was filled with so many emotions. I cried and smiled. I don’t think Don knew how much he was loved and respected. I have been reading all the comments on FB and they fill my heart with joy. Don fought a long, brave battle against this horrible disease, Lewy Body Dementia. I take comfort in knowing that he is home and his body is healed. That big booming voice is back. I can’t imagine how my life is going to be without him. He was and is the love of my life, my soulmate, my best friend. Thank you to everyone who loved my husband,. It was a pleasure sharing him with you. Love, Sammie

    Reply
  27. Karen

    Thanks so much David for adding your touch to honor one of our Chattanooga icons. Luther, Mary Ellen and now Don. And, others that are still with us but we don’t see regularly anymore. Thanks for being one of Chattanooga finest and another of our city’s icons.

    Reply
  28. Treva J Forster

    Dear David:
    This tribute for Don is so heartfelt! You should really consider writing a book involving pictures & short stories about your “work family!” I am certain that it would be # 1 on the best selling list! Again, thank you for capturing Don’s life.

    Reply
  29. Patricia W Wallen

    David, thanks for this tribute. Chattanooga has lost yet another of its icons. Don was one-of-a- kind and my family and I were fans. It’s also difficult to lose your husband and soulmate. Sympathy to all.

    Reply
  30. Patricia W Wallen

    David, thanks for this tribute. Chattanooga has lost yet another of its icons. Don was one-of-a-kind and my family and I were fans. It’s also difficult to lose your husband and soulmate. Sympathy to all.

    Reply
  31. JonathanDixon

    David, that was a nice tribute of a great personality. I just got back from a trip from Florida and did not know of Don Welch’s passing until I saw the billboard on Hwy 153. I remember watching the 3 musketeers (Bob, Don, and Darrell) as a youngster watching the news each day with my family and the chemistry between them made me think that they were family. In fact my siblings and I thought that Don and Bob were brothers because of the big bushy mustaches even though they had different last names. He will be missed.

    Reply
  32. Lori (Mosher) Smith

    What a great article and tribute! I worked at WTVC with Don, Bob Johnson and Darrell Patterson in the late 70s while working at WTVC as an assistant to the art director while attending college at UTC. Don’s smile was constant and uplifting, and working with Don and the rest of this trio are some of my favorite memories of working there. It was so fun! Such a great guy and man! They had such magic and camaraderie on-screen. Anyone growing up in Chattanooga during their tenure felt the same and looked so forward to each broadcast.

    I was blessed to be able to work with Don. My condolences to his wife Sammie and his family. May he rest in peace. The laughter he is bringing to Heaven will make the sun shine a little brighter, and the clouds fly a little higher.

    Reply
  33. Brian Johnston

    I was a producer at Channel 9 in the early to mid 90s. It was my distinct pleasure to have split time with Dan Lehr as the Good Morning Chattanooga producer for a year or so.
    Even though I was listed as the producer, all I did was stack and write the news segments, the other 95% was Welch. I kept time and otherwise stayed out of the way.
    I admired his innate talent and the work ethic it took to do that show 5 days a week. But in an industry full of people who take themselves way too seriously, it was Don’s humility and ability to laugh at himself that I admired most.
    One of the great thrills of my young career was to receive an email instructing me to attend a “Called Meeting” for GMA staff that was being held at Engel Stadium. The Lookouts had a day game and Don bought the beer.

    Reply

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