"For the final time, goodnight," Dwight Lauderdale told viewers at the end of WPLG-ABC 10's newscast Wednesday night -- and with those five little words, ended 35 years in South Florida television. A long goodbye that began in February, when the 56-year-old Lauderdale announced he would retire at the end of the May Nielsen ratings sweeps, was finally over.
The farewell messages that have dotted WPLG's newscasts for the past month reached a crescendo Wednesday, with the final 21 minutes of the 11 p.m. program being devoted to collages of some of his memorable stories as well as so-long-pal messages -- both from colleagues and newsmakers like Gloria Estefan ("You are the only other man in my life for 32 years").
Lauderdale, who came to South Florida in 1973 to report for the station that's now WSVN-Fox 7, moved to WPLG in 1976 and started anchoring the main newscasts in 1985, said he never expect his retirement would trigger such an outpouring. "Frankly, I didn't realize you cared that much," he said as he addressed the cameras for the last time. He closed not with a lofty soliloquy on the future of journalism but thanks to those who helped him over the years, especially his wife Minnie. "Thank you for sacrificing a lot of the time we could have spent together," Lauderdale said. "Thanks for always putting the demands of my career ahead of yours."
Turning to his partners on the set, Lauderdale promised: "Tomorrow night at this time I'm going to be home watching you." Retorted his laughing co-anchor Laurie Jennings: "Oh, sure you will. You'll be out having a nice dinner." Maybe a very liquid one -- as the closing credit rolled, Lauderdale was eying a four-foot-tall gift basket from his colleagues, stacked to the top with bottles of wine and martini fixings.