When does a simple felt tip marker write an important chapter of New Orleans history? When it's in the hands of Nash Roberts, standing in front of a map, calmly and skillfully explaining the weather, often when it mattered most, during a hurricane. Simply put, when Nash Roberts spoke, people listened.
During more than 50 years on the air, the man everyone called by just one name, 'Nash,' became a local institution. So much so that whenever Mother Nature would threaten, viewers would ask 'What does Nash say?' to gauge the impact of a hurricane or tropical storm.
As the city's first on-air meteorologist, he was a nightly presence on New Orleans television sets for decades, but Nash would admit that it was the science, and not style, which he valued.
'I said 'I'm not going to act, or anything else. I'm just simply going to analyze the weather and tell them what I think is going to happen,'' Roberts recalled in a 2001 interview.
A New Orleans native, Nash served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, where he became the first meteorologist to fly into the eye of a typhoon, to gather information. In 1946, just back from the war, Nash took the $3500 he had saved up in the Navy, and opened the first weather consulting office in the south. His clients were oil companies and the maritime industry.
A few years later, television came calling. At first, Nash said no. That is, until a local advertising man, Dave Cloud, made him an offer he couldn't refuse: starting with a trip to Chicago.
'He said, 'I will pay your way up there and back and introduce you to a guy who doesn't know beans about weather and is making $80,000 a year doing weather shows.' I said 'I'll go!''
Nash's TV career began in 1948, when he was hired by WDSU-TV to help track the path of a hurricane. Three years later, he signed on as a full-time meteorologist, the first in the south.
Predicting the weather was one thing. Tracking hurricanes was something else. But Nash did both very well, and New Orleanians knew to depend on his forecasts. From Hurricane Audrey in 1957 to Betsy in 1965 and Camille in 1969, Georges in 1998 and countless other close calls in between, Nash was there.
As for the pen that would write his chapter in history, Nash gave credit for that to his father-in-law, who sold office supplies.
'Among his articles he sold was an outfit called Vaporite pens,' Roberts recalled in 2001. 'It was a felt-tipped pen with fast drying ink. I said 'Let me try them,' and I never stopped.'
Even when the high-tech tools of his trade seemed to pass him by, Nash used a lifetime of knowledge to educate and inform his audience, serving as a rock of stability during trying times.
He came to WWL-TV in 1978, after stints at two other local stations and even when he retired from daily weathercasting in the 1980s, he would not go far, running his consulting business and always on call for Channel 4 in case a hurricane threatened.
'I enjoyed my profession,' he said. 'i just got lucky and got into something i really liked and it was fascinating because every day, somebody had a weather problem, whether a ship, an aircraft or big project in the gulf or something so every day, we had something big going on and with everything hinging on the weather.'
As a true renaissance man, Nash always kept a hand in many different fields. A pilot and businessman, he was also a teacher, farmer, beekeeper and a Christmas tree grower.
'I'm a dreamer, still dream, still see things that I like to do or see done or could be done better and I'm just interested in a lot of things,' he said in 2001.
That was the year Nash gave it all up, for his one great love: the love of his life - Lydia. His wife of more than 60 years had been stricken with a mysterious disease that stole her sight and left her bedridden.
'I actually prayed that I would outlive her so I could take care of her and that's the way it's working out,' he said at the time. 'I've had so much luck, good luck, in my life that I can handle a little bad luck. I've been very fortunate.'
Nash retired to care for his wife, and when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the couple did something they had never done before: evacuate New Orleans.
During Katrina, and all throughout his retirement, Nash was never far from people's minds or their hearts. That's the way it had been for most of their lives. But even after guiding generations of New Orleanians through rough weather, this gentle giant of local broadcasting was always humble, even when asked to sum up the imprint he made, here in his hometown.
In 1993, longtime WWL anchor Bill Elder asked Roberts how he would like to be remembered.
'I guess the best thing that I could think of is: he was one of the good guys. That's about as much as I can hope for.'