Weathercasting, sportscasting, fundraising. It’s all in a day’s work for this community leader.
“Growing up, I knew two things. One, I liked sports. Two, I also liked Oreos and Fig Newtons,” said Rich Segal, without missing a beat. “So, I picked a college where I could do sports journalism.”
Segal’s deep, heartfelt laugh is hard to miss and his authoritative voice–known throughout Austin as the voice of UT women’s athletics and as the emcee for charity events–is the kind that draws you in no matter where you are or what topic is being discussed.
Discussing his career progression and choices, he chuckled, but this man has three decades of experience and is living his dream, doing what makes him happy every day, which is no laughing matter. The Atlantic City-born Your News Now (YNN) meteorologist arrived in Austin in 1993 (after having visited while living in Wichita Falls in 1988) by way of Columbia, Missouri, with a stint in Wichita Falls as well. His formative years were split between Margate, just south of Atlantic City, and Philadelphia.
That first weekend in 1988, which led to other weekend visits, Segal stepped into the Boathouse, at that time a thriving and popular gay bar on Colorado Street, and for the first time in a while felt like he could be himself. After many years of living in more conservative cities, it felt okay for him to live openly as a gay man.
“Arriving in Austin was like a cold front had just come through and gotten rid of all the stifling air, and a new wave of positive energy swept over me,” Segal said, noting that he’s always followed his own path. “It was my oasis, a place where I could come and be myself.”
Segal explained that when he lived in Denison and other, less tolerant places, as a person on television he assumed the characteristics of the environment. “I had to act conservative when I didn’t want to be that way. I couldn’t be the way I am today, nor could I support the causes I do now.”
As a young boy, Segal would play stickball with the neighborhood kids and his parents took him to baseball and football games. He took the sports section from the paper, read the scores and would talk to himself, pretending he was sportscaster Jack Whitaker. At the age of 10, when he was still in Atlantic City, his dad took him to a Dodgers/ Phillies game and he witnessed Sandy Koufax pitch a no hitter. Although the significance of that particular event was over his head at the time, he still recalls the day.
In Wichita Falls, Segal worked for a semi-pro basketball team as their public address announcer for four years or so, but in 2005 he connected with a friend’s husband who runs media relations for UT. Everything fell into place. He started off announcing for women’s basketball, then moved to volleyball and softball. It clearly provides immense joy to him and keeps him busy two to three days per week from September through May. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way and I consider myself to be a very lucky person to have one of the best seats in the house.” While he was living in Columbia, Segal started realizing his sexuality, but he didn’t date in high school. He was a self-described Goody Two-Shoes as a child, not wearing jeans until his senior year of high school and not taking his first sip of beer until college. During his freshman year at the University of Missouri, he met a handsome, blue-eyed, blonde-haired young man named John whom he connected with instantly.
They got an apartment and lived together for a few years until Segal took the job in Wichita Falls three years after graduating. They maintained a long-distance relationship for a time, as well. Segal spoke about their six years together in the reverent tones one reserves for a first love. “He was a very gentle soul, he made me laugh and he was good for me,” Segal said. “We’ve maintained our friendship since then.”
Does Segal regret his decision to end the relationship because he relocated for work? Not at all, because he ultimately ended up in Austin. “I’d be willing to bet if we had stayed there or moved somewhere together, we would still be together,” said Segal, adding that they’ll visit next summer at the national gay softball tournament being held in Minneapolis, where John lives.
Segal’s schedule, which is basically Wednesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday from 4 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., leaves him plenty of time for sportscasting and for his many philanthropic commitments to organizations such as AIDS Services of Austin and the Octopus Club.
For the better part of this past decade, Segal has brought nonprofit workers into the YNN fold on television so they can spread the word and raise more money for causes ranging from pet care to HIV/AIDS services. He’s also the unofficial meteorologist for the Hill Country Ride for AIDS–and he makes a point of donating on behalf of many friends who partake in these events each year.
“Rich’s greatest quality is his generosity,” said Jim Spencer, chief weathercaster for KXAN who has known Segal since his days in Wichita Falls. “You sometimes hear people say they’d give you the shirt off their back–well, Rich would give you his shirt, socks and shoes! He’s one of the most generous people I know and never says no when it comes to helping with anything and everything.”
“I’ve always been given the green light to help promote these [nonprofit] events,” Segal said. “I enjoy it so much, meet wonderful people and in the end you’ve raised money for people that need your help.”
“Rich has been an integral part of the Octopus Club leadership and has been involved at every level of some of our largest fundraising events,” said Lew Aldridge, the organization’s founder. “He has a big, warm heart that understands that compassion requires rolling up your sleeves and shouldering responsibility.”
Bob Rose, a meteorologist at the Lower Colorado River Authority who has known Segal for almost two decades, said, “Rich has emceed many events. When he’s in that mode, he always reminds me of Regis Philbin, with the same quick wit and funny lines. I remember one time he was at OctoTea at the Oasis. When the winning ticket for a weeklong cruise for two was drawn, it turned out he won. However, Rich didn’t want the cruise. To show what a nice guy he is, he turned down the grand prize, explaining that he preferred the second prize (a dinner), and drew another ticket. He’s just that kind of guy.”
Segal remains very close with his sister, who lives back east and is three years his junior. Their mother died of lung cancer in May of 2000. For many years, when asked by his mother what he wanted for his birthday, he would request that she quit smoking. She’d kept the disease a secret, at first, saying that she had a benign tumor that size of a quarter. When Segal questioned her oncologist, he learned her tumor was malignant and the size of a lemon.
His father’s death, two years later, was a “blessing in disguise,” according to Segal, who said that his “dad’s life basically ended when his mother passed away.”
After all this time in the business, Segal still gets frustrated when Mother Nature doesn’t act according to his forecasts. “It takes one disaster or catastrophe to get rid of another in Austin. The only way it ends is when a flood happens.”
He plans to retire on the East Coast, fulfilling a promise he made to his sister when their parents died. She lives in New Jersey and had asked him to move back shortly after they passed away. Segal told her he would, once he was ready to retire. “I love my life, I love Austin, and I have a wealth of friends. I’m a very wealthy man because of that.”