Longtime Tampa television anchor and newsman Bill Ratliff died Tuesday surrounded by his family. He was 63.
Described by friends and co-workers as the "consummate newsman," Ratliff's broadcasting career spanned more than 40 years, including 27 years at WFLA, News Channel 8. Before taking an early retirement in 2009, he was co-anchor and managing editor of the News Channel 8 morning newscasts.
After leaving News Channel 8, he worked as a political analyst and commentator on WTSP, Channel 10, in 2010 and 2011.
A family spokesman says Ratliff passed away after complications from surgery. Funeral arrangements were pending. His surviving family includes his wife, Linda; son Chet; daughter Shannon; and one grandchild.
Gayle Guyardo, Ratliff's co-anchor for 16 years, fought back tears as she recalled his devotion to journalism. She says "it was in his blood — it was his life."
Guyardo says she had kept in touch with Ratliff since he left News Channel 8 but did not know the nature of his illness. "He had been extremely private, and I did not want to intrude on that," she says. "One of the sad things is that I did not have a chance to say goodbye."
Ratliff, who grew up in Cincinnati, was a rising star when he joined News Channel 8 in 1982. He had worked as an anchor and reporter in Lexington, Ky., and in Detroit. In Dallas, at WFAA-TV, he was a "PM Magazine" host and then news anchor.
While at Channel 8, he anchored the 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts and established himself as a savvy political reporter. He found his niche on the morning newscasts.
"He was a rock on that show," says News Channel 8 News Director Don North. "He was really a solid guy, dependable. He really cared about the community, and it came through in his anchoring. He cared about what he was doing. People depended on him and the show, and it was important for him to do it well."
Ratliff also was part of the station's hurricane coverage team, putting in a 60-hour stint at the anchor desk during Hurricane Elena in 1985. He also co-anchored the station's coverage of the Gasparilla Parade for 25 years, and he was part of the station's annual telethon for All Children's Hospital.
News Channel 8 Executive Producer Susan Newman, who met Ratliff 21 years ago, calls him "the most loyal and dedicated friend I ever knew."
Newman recalls Ratliff coming to work for an important story on his day off and apologizing for being on the golf course. "That's the kind of person he was," she says. "He wanted to make it right. He believed in what he did. He was as real on TV as he was in person. What you see is what you get with Bill."
Ratliff won numerous awards during his tenure at Channel 8, including a Florida Emmy nomination, national recognition from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the "Communicator of the Year" award from the Tampa chapter of Toastmasters International, and various awards from The Associated Press and United Press International.
Ratliff also was active in civic groups and organizations, serving on the executive board of the Tampa/Hillsborough County Youth Council, the board of trustees of the Academy of the Holy Names and the Jesuit High School Foundation. He also was a past president of two Little Leagues.
"He was the best television anchor-journalist I have known. He was a true journalist, and that is hard to do when you're a TV anchor," says former News Channel 8 colleague and close friend Rick McEwen.
McEwen had known Ratliff since 1981 and said he had a great sense of humor. "He didn't take life seriously. He always found humor in everything," McEwen says. "And he was the best political analyst at the station. He was a true journalist; that's missed these days. The television industry will miss a man like Bill; he really cared about his work."
Guyardo says the fondest memories in her career involve Ratliff.
"I learned so much from sitting next to him all those years, soaking up the wisdom he had to offer," she says. "I believe if the stars had not aligned and brought us together, I would not be where I am today."