Jerry Taft, who was a trusted and engaging presence as a top meteorologist on Chicago television and radio for more than 40 years, died Thursday, according to ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7. He was 77.
No cause of death was immediately reported, but Taft was known to have suffered from congestive heart failure for several years. ABC 7 said he died peacefully surrounded by family members.
“To say Jerry Taft was one-of-a-kind is a true understatement," said Jennifer Graves, vice president of news at ABC 7. "His infectious laugh and sense of humor lit up our newsroom and connected with our audience. We are all so much better for knowing him. Our hearts go out to Shana and Jerry’s children.”
John Idler, president and general manager of ABC 7, said: “Jerry Taft was an exceptional meteorologist and the face of ABC 7 weather for more than three decades. He was loved by Chicagoans and all of us here at the station. Jerry taught us all the value of being able to laugh at yourself. He will be truly missed and we send out heartfelt sympathies to his entire family.”
Taft retired in January 2018 after 33 years at ABC 7, telling colleagues: “While I still have my health, wit and vitality it’s time to hang out with my real family, assuming they still remember me. And I also need to hit the golf course while I still have a single digit handicap.”
The following month Taft moved full-time to Naples, Florida, where he kept busy golfing and working as an Uber driver. “It’s not about the money — it’s about getting out of the house and talking to people,” he explained.
Taft’s interest in weather began in the U.S. Air Force, which he joined as a 19-year-old radar technician. He eventually became a combat pilot, spent a year in Vietnam, taught aviation and flight planning, and earned a degree in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin in 1969.
From his first on-air job at KMOL, the NBC affiliate in San Antonio, Texas, Taft joined NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5 in 1977. Seven years later he moved to ABC 7.
"I called Jerry the brain without a filter," said retired news anchor Ron Magers, who worked with Taft for decades at ABC 7 and NBC 5. "He said what was on his mind, sometimes to his chagrin, but always with honesty and more often with entertaining results.
"My favorite moments were when he was on the air and something ran through his mind that amused him to the point he would try to choke back the laughter and almost couldn’t continue. That giggle and laugh will forever warm my heart," Magers said.
Sports anchor Mark Giangreco, who also worked with Taft at ABC 7 and NBC 5, said: “Jerry was a bigger-than-life personality. His journey was the stuff of a crazy, over-the-top novel — from flying fighter jets in Viet Nam to riding his Harley to work to beating the pros in pro am golf outings, he entertained the world.
“We laughed together so hard it hurt. I cherish the moments on and off set when we couldn’t hold it together. Wish I could hold him now.”
In 2005 Taft was inducted in the Silver Circle of the Chicago/Midwest chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.
Taft, who also had a home in west suburban Lemont, is survived by his wife Shana and his children Skylar, Storm, Danna and Jay.