Former “Good Morning America” weather anchor Spencer Christian shared the ups and downs of his life and career at the June meeting of Sons In Retirement, Branch 35, which serves the Los Altos area.
Christian, who appeared on the ABC morning show for several years, now works at ABC7 News in the Bay Area and is the author of “You Bet Your Life: How I Survived Jim Crow Racism, Hurricane Chasing, and Gambling” (Post Hill Press, 2018).
The broadcaster discussed three stages of his life. The first was growing up in the Richmond, Va., area in the late 1940s and ’50s. Most people don’t think of Virginia as a “Jim Crow” area like Alabama or Mississippi, Christian noted, but there were trappings of segregation until the late ’60s, and attitudes were slow to change. For example, tennis star Arthur Ashe, also from that area, had difficulty finding courts on which to learn and play. Segregation of schools and public facilities lingered for a long time.
In his second stage, Christian made his opportunities by studying journalism at Hampton Institute (now University) and broke into broadcasting. His career as a weather broadcaster was the result of a last-minute substitution; it led to work at larger stations, eventually to New York and to national television on “Good Morning America.” He achieved considerable success not only in weather broadcasting, but also as a news reporter and interviewer who conducted one-on-ones with seven U.S. presidents.
Christian recalled how he got a chuckle out of former President Richard Nixon, who – especially late in life – did not laugh much, by recalling a mock debate in junior high. Christian had taken the part of Nixon and another student the part of John Kennedy. He told Nixon that the students had voted that he had won the debate, but “then you lost the election!”
The career stage of Christian’s life also marked the beginning of his gambling addiction. His success – and proximity to East Coast casinos and frequent trips with stopovers in Las Vegas – led him to win a lot of money at times, but he subsequently would incur large losses. Eventually he lost his marriage as well.
The third stage of his life – overcoming the addictive habit – came as a result of not a “come to Jesus” moment, Christian said, but a “come to Jessica” moment. His daughter Jessica confronted him with the fact that he was losing everything. He found the help he needed in a 12-step program and has successfully rebuilt his life and career.