June Bacon-Bercey passed away on July 3, 2019 at the age of 90, but her legacy on breaking down barriers in meteorology, TV, and science lives on forever.
“That was mom, you don't do something halfway. That was the lesson I took with me for the rest of my life.”
Dail St. Claire could talk about her mom for hours.
“She always said love what you do. Family and community is first and she always figured out a way to make it all work,” says St. Claire.
Her mom, June Bacon-Bercey was a pioneer in the male-dominated fields of meteorology and science in the 50s, 60, and 70s. And an inspiration to many, including her daughter.
“She always said chance favors the prepared mind and that’s how she approached everything.”
June was a trailblazer becoming the first female and African American to earn a degree in meteorology and the first female meteorologist in the U.S. to do weather on TV back in 1971. In 1972, she became the first female and African American to be awarded the AMS Seal of Approval for excellence in on-air meteorology. It was June’s way of telling the world she was a scientist and meteorologist first.
“She took her job and career very seriously, which is why when she became chief meteorologist she doggedly pursued getting the Seal of Approval because she thought that was essential given the TV 'weather girl' persona of the day,” says St. Claire of her mother.
After four years on Buffalo TV, she left to get her Doctorate in Science and went back to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, and the National Weather Service. She served on the AMS Board…helping and encouraging women and people of color to pursue a degree in science and meteorology.
In 1977, she appeared on the Game Show “The $128,000 Question” with one goal in mind.
St. Claire said “She was so excited because the moment she had that invitation she turned to me and said this is the path to the scholarship. Mom had always envisioned launching the June Bacon-Bercey scholarship for women.”
She won $64,000 and launched her foundation. Over the next decade, she helped 12 women graduate with a degree in meteorology. In 1981, she used some of that game show money to fund a meteorology lab at Jackson State University. That lab still exists today, and Jackson State is recognized as graduating the most black meteorologists in the country.
June Bacon-Bercey is a beacon of black excellence.
St. Claire says her mom was “very passionate about making sure that others had the opportunity so that pioneers would be a thing of the past.”
At the age of 59, she retired from 30 years of government work and went into teaching high school math and science until she was in her 80s.
June Bacon-Bercey's last wish was that her scholarship be reinstated to help more women pursue careers in the sciences. Her daughter said that the foundation will be back up and running this year.