June Bacon-Bercey was a pioneer in the field of meteorology, becoming the first Black woman to earn a degree in the science in the ’50s. She was also an internationally recognized expert in aviation and weather, and is the first woman and African-American woman to win the American Meteorological Society’s “seal of approval” honor for television weather broadcasting.
Bacon-Bercey was born on October 23, 1932, and raised in Wichita, Kan. The future weatherwoman earned her undergraduate degree in 1954 from the University of Kansas and her master’s degree from UCLA. As an engineer, she worked for several organizations on the federal level including the National Weather Service and the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
Bacon-Bercey became a television broadcaster in Buffalo, N.Y., and worked in the role throughout the ’70s. Her work as a broadcaster drew attention as she was one of the few Black weather broadcasters of the era. She inherited the job after her predecessor, reportedly an alcoholic disc jockey, was arrested for holding up a local bank. In 1979, she become a top official for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Among Bacon-Bercy’s numerous contributions to science and society is a meteorology lab she helped establish at Jackson State University. She also created an annual scholarship via the American Geophysical Union. NASA has also recognized Bacon-Bercey as a Minority Pioneer for Achievement in Atmospheric Sciences.
A story that has followed Bacon-Bercey is how she funded the aforementioned scholarship. Bacon-Bercey was a contestant on The $128,000 Question, winning the top prize. According to reports, she gifted the money because she understood the challenges facing women interested in her career path who needed financial assistance. She has been honored by Howard University for her scientific contributions and in her later years, she even become a substitute teacher in California’s San Mateo County Schools system.
Bacon-Bercey died at the age of 90 on July 3, 2019 in hospice care in California.