ME­TE­O­ROL­O­GIST JERRY TAFT DIES IN HIS SLEEP AT AGE 77

Chicago Sun-Times - - CHICAGO SUN TIMES - BY CLARE PROC­TOR, STAFF REPORTER cproc­tor@sun­times.com | @ce­proc­tor23

Jerry Taft was a house­hold name in Chicago, a beloved me­te­o­rol­o­gist for more than 40 years, with 33 of those years at ABC 7-Chicago.

Even more so than his love for the weather, al­ways stay­ing up to date on the lat­est tech­nol­ogy, Mr. Taft’s col­leagues and friends will re­mem­ber him for his sense of hu­mor and one-of-a-kind laugh.

“We used to tease him and say it was a squeaky gig­gle,” said Ron Magers, 75, who worked with Mr. Taft for much of his ca­reer. “What peo­ple usu­ally heard was him try­ing to sti­fle it be­cause he was re­ally crack­ing up on the air.”

Mr. Taft died in his sleep Thurs­day night. He was 77.

Me­te­o­rol­ogy came as a sec­ond ca­reer for Mr. Taft, af­ter serv­ing in the Air Force, in­clud­ing a stint in Viet­nam. He could have stayed in the Air Force and gone on to have a com­fort­able re­tire­ment, but Magers said when Mr. Taft set his mind to some­thing — even be­com­ing a tele­vi­sion weath­er­man — he did it. He was “guided by his own in­ner feel­ings,” Magers said.

Af­ter an ini­tial tele­vi­sion stint in San An­to­nio, Mr. Taft moved to Chicago to work for WMAQ, Chicago’s NBC af­fil­i­ate. He switched over to ABC 7 af­ter seven years, where he spent the re­main­der of his ca­reer, and he was also the Sun-Times me­te­o­rol­o­gist for a time.

ABC 7 me­te­o­rol­o­gist Larry Mowry said he’ll al­ways re­mem­ber the sto­ries Mr. Taft told in the weather cen­ter. He’d rem­i­nisce on the old days in TV news, fly­ing in Viet­nam and meet­ing base­ball star Mickey Man­tle, Mowry said in an email.

“I’ll never for­get him telling me, ‘It’s about the con­nec­tion,’” Mowry said. “The con­nec­tion to the view­ers and the con­nec­tion to your co­work­ers. You can’t fake that.”

ABC 7 reporter Roz Varon met Mr. Taft when she was a se­nior at Columbia Col­lege, do­ing pro­mo­tions for a coun­try ra­dio sta­tion at the time. Varon said Mr. Taft was “al­ready a leg­end” in 1980, but af­ter just a cou­ple of min­utes talk­ing with him, Varon re­al­ized there was noth­ing to be in­ti­mated about.

Less than a decade later, Varon found her­self work­ing with Mr. Taft, who an­swered any of her ques­tions about work­ing on tele­vi­sion and never made her feel ner­vous. He’d re­mind her that “this isn’t brain surgery — it’s TV news,” Varon said, and if some­thing went wrong while de­liv­er­ing the news, she should not dwell on it.

Still, Varon said Mr. Taft took his work se­ri­ously. He knew his craft well and stayed on the cut­ting edge of weather-re­lated tech­nol­ogy, but he would de­liver in­for­ma­tion in a way that wasn’t pre­ten­tious, she said.

“He was one of the good ones,” Varon said. “He’s go­ing to be missed by a lot of peo­ple. They don’t make them like that anymore.”

On and off the cam­era, good hu­mor and con­ta­gious laugh­ter fol­lowed Mr. Taft, his co­work­ers said. When he was the butt of the joke of­ten marked the times Mr. Taft laughed the hard­est, Varon said.

He taught ev­ery­one at ABC 7 the value of be­ing able to laugh at them­selves, John Idler, the sta­tion’s pres­i­dent and gen­eral man­ager, said in a state­ment. Mayor Lori Light­foot called Mr. Taft a “class act” in a tweet.

Mr. Taft gave his time to Chicago char­i­ties, and he’d al­ways en­gage with view­ers when he made pub­lic ap­pear­ances, said ABC 7 me­te­o­rol­o­gist Tracy But­ler.

When a thought popped into Mr. Taft’s mind, he couldn’t help but say it, Magers said, mak­ing him one of the most hon­est peo­ple Magers

knew.

“What you saw with the Jerry on the air ev­ery day was the real Jerry,” Magers said. “He was very gen­uine.”

Magers and Mr. Taft would of­ten es­cape be­tween news­casts to grab a quick, and of­ten un­healthy, bite to eat. Those quiet mo­ments, talk­ing about fam­ily or friends, are mem­o­ries Magers will hold on to, he said. The pair would also fre­quent the golf course — Magers said Mr. Taft scored eight or nine holes-in-one over his life­time, in­clud­ing three while Magers was with him.

Mr. Taft re­tired in Jan­uary 2018 to spend more time with fam­ily and on the golf course, pass­ing the cold, win­ter months near Naples, Florida. He dab­bled in crock pot cook­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally worked as an Uber driver.

“His life could’ve been a best-sell­ing novel,” said Mark Gian­greco, an ABC 7 sports an­chor and long­time friend of Mr. Taft’s. “We laughed so hard to­gether we cried. That’s what I’ll miss the most.”

Mr. Taft is sur­vived by his wife, Shana, and chil­dren Sky­lar, Storm, Dana and Jay.

WASH­ING­TON — Safety reg­u­la­tors is­sued an emer­gency or­der di­rect­ing air­lines to in­spect and if nec­es­sary re­place a crit­i­cal en­gine part on pop­u­lar Boe­ing 737 jets af­ter four re­ports of en­gines shut­ting down dur­ing flights.

The Fed­eral Avi­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion said Fri­day that its or­der af­fected about 2,000 twin-en­gine pas­sen­ger jets in the United States.

The FAA said op­er­a­tors must in­spect any 737 that has been parked for at least seven days or been flown fewer than 11 times since be­ing re­turned to ser­vice. That’s be­cause of re­ports that cer­tain en­gine valves can be­come stuck in the open po­si­tion.

Cor­ro­sion of the valves on both en­gines could lead to a com­plete loss of power with­out the abil­ity to restart the en­gines, forc­ing pi­lots to land some­where other than an air­port, the FAA said in the or­der, dated Thurs­day.

Chicago-based Boe­ing Co. said that with planes be­ing stored or used less of­ten dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, “the valve can be more sus­cep­ti­ble to cor­ro­sion.” The com­pany said it is pro­vid­ing in­spec­tion and parts-re­place­ment help to air­plane own­ers.

The FAA did not pro­vide de­tails about the four cases of en­gine shut­downs.

SUN-TIMES FILES

Col­leagues say Jerry Taft, a me­te­o­rol­o­gist for 33 years at ABC 7-Chicago, had a one-of-a-kind laugh.

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