How a plan greater than myself brought me home from Texas to Alabama

It is said luck is where preparation meets opportunity.  Obviously, a life traveling the state and knowing its people provided preparation. In truth, I had daydreamed about telling the stories of the people and the land from which I grew. Then came a two-fold opportunity.

My television career had led to studies in meteorology at Mississippi State. Having completed the requirements in a satisfactory manner, I became a Certified Meteorologist, which led to jobs in Montgomery and Myrtle Beach, and then an offer from a childhood friend Rob Martin — yet another of the Opp connections to Austin, Texas. It was a dream job in a state and a city rich in history and evolving toward the 21st century.

Fred and Ivy Hunter in Texas in the 1990s

Shortly after taking on weather duties at KTBC in Austin, I was called to a meeting with the general manager, Craig MIllar, and Rob. Craig spoke. “We have so many complaints from viewers about all the negative stories we report, we want you to do a series of stories. We’re going to call it Positively Texas.”

Nothing could have pleased me more. But although I knew something of the history of the Lone Star State, where would I start? In the newsroom, I asked for advice from a couple of native Texans, Paige Grisset and Kathleen Jennings. Besides being Texas natives, both had their own bona fides. Paige was personal friends with Lance Armstrong, then the acknowledged King of Cycling.  Kathleen was second cousins with Waylon Jennings. She always walked through the newsroom singing Rainy Day Woman, her personal favorite from her cousin’s exhaustive country repertoire. Both were as Texas as they come and their answers were the same. “You start at the Alamo, Fred.” And so it began.

From Texas’ most sacred ground, what could be more Texas than cowboy hats? So I sought out the legendary makers at Texas Hatters in “Beautiful Buda,” a crossroads town between Austin and San Antonio. Joella Gammage had taken over the business from her father, Manny, who had followed in his own father’s footsteps. Inside the small shop just off I-35 the wells were lined with practically every TV, movie, or music star who had ever worn a hat. Manny made hats for them all: Jerry Jeff Walker (who immortalized the shop in the song Manny’s Hats), Willie Nelson, naturally, and even legendary Austin bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The day of my visit Joella was finishing a hat for Sam Elliott, who was shooting “Roughriders” in nearby Victoria. She was also shipping a hat she had just finished for Hank Williams, Jr., who wanted a new one to wear on the long-running musical intro for Monday Night Football.

Everyone who was anyone and needed a cowboy hat eventually found their way to Texas Hatters.

And we were off.

For the next two-plus years, we featured those stories that were Positively Texas. Then in the spring of 1997 came word of a weather position opening at the FOX TV station in Birmingham — and a chance to move “back home.”

Since the opportunity was a weather job, I submitted several weathercasts from KTBC. Almost on a whim I also attached a few Positively Texas stories. Within the week I had a call. Peggy Carpenter, news director at FOX6 in Birmingham, wanted to fly me in for an interview. I was met at the airport and driven to the TV station, still sitting high on Red Mountain overlooking the city.

Fred Hunter at the Luckenbach Inn, before returning to Alabama for good

I walked into the station, wearing my Stetson (which would not have drawn a second glance in Austin, but which drew more than a few looks in Birmingham). Removing my hat, as I had been schooled since youth to do, I walked into the news director’s office where I was greeted by Peggy, a red-haired woman, short in stature and no-nonsense. She bade me have a chair and began the shortest interview of my professional life.“You’re coming back to Birmingham,” she began. “You’re going to be my weekend weatherman, and you are going to produce a weekly series like Positively Texas. We’re going to call it Absolutely Alabama. I’ve already spoken to your news director in Austin. You start in two weeks.  I can’t give you a raise from what you’re making, but I can get you back home. Do you have any questions?”

“No ma’am.” So the Absolutely Alabama journey began. But one important note: Peggy was born and raised in Buffalo Gap, Texas. So it was my stories, not my meteorological skills, which separated me from all the other applicants.

There is a plan and a reason things happen. I believe fate or providence or the Almighty Himself placed Peggy Carpenter in my path.

More than a quarter century later, the journey continues.