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, and 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 gig in San Antonio, Mr. Taft moved to Chicago to work for WMAQ, Chicago’s NBC affiliate. After seven years, he switched to ABC 7, where he spent the remainder of his career. He also was 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 about 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-music 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. And Mr. Taft often laughed hardest when the joke was on him, 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.
Jerry Taft was the definition of a class act. His love for meteorology and passion for our city always shined through. My deepest condolences to Jerry's entire family and everyone at @ABC7Chicago. https://t.co/lJf32rJXZJ— Mayor Lori Lightfoot (@chicagosmayor) July 24, 2020
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 onto, 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.