Jim Tilmon, a longtime NBC 5 forecaster and aviation pioneer who became a household name to Chicagoans, has died at 86 years old, his family confirmed Saturday.
The veteran journalist passed away at a hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona, where he lived with his wife of 32 years, Joan.
Tilmon, an Oklahoma native, was not only known for his role as a Chicago newscaster, but was a retired pilot who reported on aviation and science during his 22-year tenure at NBC 5.
Tilmon retired from NBC 5 in 1994 and moved to Arizona where he continued to report on aviation.
"He loved NBC,” his wife, Joan, said Saturday.
Veteran journalist Carol Marin, who retired in late 2020 as NBC 5's political editor, said Tilmon was not just professional, but kind and generous with his time.
"A gentleman always," she said. "And trusted by colleagues and viewers alike.”
Tilmon served in the United States Army Corps of Engineers for eight years, and in 1965, joined American Airlines, becoming the airline’s third African American commercial pilot and the country’s fifth, according to a biography on the HistoryMakers website.
"People would hand him their baggage and say, 'Skycap, take this on the plane, and Jim had the kind of dignity and presence to not embarrass them, but explain to them that he would be happy to get their baggage to the proper person so that he could go fly the plane," Marin recalled.
While Tilmon spent more than two decades at NBC 5, he began his broadcasting career at WTTW by hosting the first live weekly magazine show developed for and by African Americans. He also worked as a forecaster and aviation expert at CBS 2.
Veteran NBC 5 anchor and reporter Art Norman called Tilmon "the world's best mentor and friend."
"We laughed a lot, we told jokes a lot, and he was a great person to talk with, not to, but with," Norman said.
NBC 5 reporter Phil Rogers said the longtime newscaster was a "giant of Chicago television."
"When I first moved here in 1978, I was just blown away when I learned that NBC had a meteorologist who was also an airline captain! Then, after I got to NBC 5 in 1991, I would soon learn how outgoing, gracious and welcoming he was to a new kid with no tv experience," Rogers added. "That was Jim. He was not just incredibly talented, but also was such a kind, generous, gentle, wonderful man. Expert meteorologist. Expert pilot. Wonderful broadcaster. Great musician. And just a fabulous friend."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
To those who knew Tilmon, he was equally beloved off camera as he was on.
"There is this loss of Jim, but there is the loss we feel, all of us feel, in this terrible time of plague and Jim, you know he would have understood that, and tried to make us feel better about it," Marin added.
Jim Tilmon, Jr., Tilmon's son who was also an American Airlines pilot, died at 60 in Aug. 2020.