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June Bacon-Bercey, a trailblazing African American TV meteorologist, has died

When June Bacon-Bercey graduated with a degree in meteorology in the 1950s, there were hardly any women, let alone African-American women, in her field.

The same was true when she became an on-air meteorologist for a television news station in the ’70s, and in the many roles she went on to occupy in her decadeslong career.

Bacon-Bercey, a trailblazer who has been called the first American woman to become a TV meteorologist, died last summer, her family announced recently. She was 90.

Her daughter Dail St. Claire said that Bacon-Bercey died on July 3, 2019, of frontotemporal dementia, though her death had not been publicized until the news company AccuWeather reported on it last week.

“My mother paved a new road for women and minorities, and she paved that road with tenacity, integrity, diligence and community service,” St. Claire told CNN. “For me and all other women, African-Americans and other minorities, her legacy is one of hope. Her legacy serves as inspiration for all and is a powerful example of our limitless capability and strength.”

She had a long list of achievements

Bacon-Bercey, who was born June Esther Griffin in Wichita, Kansas, on October 23, 1928, had a long resume.

She did a stint at the National Meteorological Center. She worked as an engineer for the Sperry Rand Corporation. She studied the effects of nuclear fallout on the atmosphere for the US Atomic Energy Commission. She worked for the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But Bacon-Bercey was perhaps best known for her time in the ’70s as a television meteorologist for WGR-TV (now WGRZ), an NBC-affiliated news station in Buffalo, New York.

Bacon-Bercey was hired at the station as a reporter, after unsuccessfully applying for chief meteorologist positions around the country, St. Claire said. But when WGR-TV’s meteorologist at the time was arrested for allegedly robbing a bank, she rose to the occasion.

In a profile last year, AccuWeather described Bacon-Bercey as the first American woman to become a TV meteorologist. Other women, often referred to as “weather girls,” had delivered television weather reports before her, but Bacon-Bercey was the first to do so as a meteorologist, meaning that she used science and math to forecast the weather and climate.

That achievement, St. Claire said, is a testament to her life mantra, a quote from 19th century scientist Louis Pasteur: Chance favors the prepared mind.

“There is no question that obstacles were above and below her … and that’s a large part of why she conducted her life and her career with such precision,” said St. Claire, who is the chief operating officer at Park Avenue Finance.

In 1972, the American Meteorological Society awarded Bacon-Bercey with its “seal of approval” for excellence in television weathercasting, making her the first woman and first African-American to receive the honor.

She was a champion for minorities

Bacon-Bercey was always cognizant of her identity and stature as an African-American woman, which is why she was such a fierce advocate for women, St. Claire said.

“She would be advocating for women studying STEM, women in meteorology, women on television,” she said. “This is at a time when women over 40 weren’t in (those positions).”

In the ’70s, Bacon-Bercey helped found the American Meteorological Society’s Board on Women and Minorities in an effort to draw more people from underrepresented communities to atmospheric science, according to Physics Today.

“She made personal sacrifices for those who would come after her to give them a fighting chance at success in her field,” Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, said in a statement.

During her time at NOAA, she helped establish a program at Jackson State University to encourage minorities to pursue meteorology careers, AccuWeather reported.

And from 1978-1990, the June Bacon-Bercey Scholarship for Women, administered by the American Geophysical Union, helped 12 women attend college, according to St. Claire. Bacon-Bercey set up the fund using the $64,000 she won on a quiz show called “The $128,000 Question.”

“That was my plan at the beginning, and it’s still my plan,” she told the Washington Post in 1977. “I was discouraged (from becoming a meteorologist), and other women were discouraged. If they feel they’ve got some money behind them, it might be better.”

Bacon-Bercey’s final wish was that the scholarship be reinstated, her daughter said.

“She did not want a large service. She wanted anyone who chose to honor her to honor her by donating to her scholarship,” St. Claire said.

St. Claire has been working with the AGU for the past several months to revive the scholarship.

cnn