Richard Hendrickson, a Bridgehampton farmer who tracked storm clouds and rainbows for more than 80 years as the nation’s longest serving weather observer, died Saturday at the Westhampton Care Center of natural causes. He was 103.
Friends said Hendrickson was a living link to eastern Long Island’s past, regaling visitors to his family farm with tales of rural life before the Hamptons exploded into a posh extremity of Manhattan.
For 84 years, he had a twice-daily ritual of checking thermometers, measuring precipitation and logging his observations of the sky over his Lumber Lane homestead. He called his findings into the National Weather Service’s Upton office each day using a black rotary phone.
In July 2014, the service honored Hendrickson as the longest serving volunteer weather observer in U.S. history and unveiled a new Richard G. Hendrickson award for observers who serve for 80 years.
“I don’t have to get any hay in today. I don’t have to vaccinate any chickens. I don’t have to collect any eggs,” he said at a 2014 ceremony honoring him at Brookhaven National Lab in Upton. “I’m living high.”
Hendrickson was born and raised in Bridgehampton at his family’s Hill View Farm. He told Newsday in 2014 that his fascination with weather began when he was 18 and a neighbor, Ernest Clowes, stopped to talk about the weather with Hendrickson’s parents.
Weather then became central to his life in agriculture, raising cows and chickens. “You don’t do any crop without weather,” he said. “You don’t raise any livestock without weather.”
Hendrickson’s sharp memory and collection of antique guns, arrowheads and whaling instruments made him a resource for East End historians. His books of history and poetry remain on sale at the Bridgehampton Museum.
“His curiosity was insatiable,” said John Eilertsen, executive director of the Bridgehampton Museum. “Really, a very, very intelligent man. Very articulate, very generous with what he knew.”
Hendrickson talked of delivering milk to the Corwith House and visiting relatives at the Nathaniel Rogers House, two 18th century homes in Bridgehampton that are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
“To live so long and to retain really his mind, his memories and his personality, it’s quite remarkable,” Eilertsen said. “Any of us who live more than a couple decades see changes, but imagine seeing 100 years of changes.”
Sara Hendrickson, of Bridgehampton, said her grandfather was a gentle and patient man who maintained a passion for knowledge even in the last weeks of his life.
“He was still upbeat and happy,” she said. “He used to say he never stopped learning, and he never did.”
Hendrickson is also survived by granddaughters Leah Hendrickson and Rachel Green, both of Jamesport; a sister, Edith Williams, of Raleigh, North Carolina; and a daughter-in-law, Janet Hendrickson, of Bridgehampton. He is predeceased by his son, Richard Hendrickson, and two wives, Dorothea Hendrickson and Lillian Hendrickson.
Visiting has been scheduled for Jan. 22 from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Brockett Funeral Home in Southampton. Services have been scheduled for Jan. 23 at 11 a.m. at Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church.
Burial is to be at Edgewood Cemetery in Bridgehampton.