Stephen Wilhite has revolutionized Internet culture by bringing still images to life. Computer programmers invented the Graphics Interchange Format, or GIF, in 1987. But after a sudden case of COVID-19, the creator of GIF passed away on the 14th of May. 3 in his hometown of Milford, Ohio.
“It came suddenly. He wakes up one morning and he says, ‘Honey, I’m not feeling well. I don’t feel good at all,” his wife Kathaleen Wilhite said NPR on Wednesday. The couple are retired and plan to get their new camper on the road soon. But then Steve woke up sick on March 1. “He’s got a fever, he’s vomiting a lot,” says Kathaleen. “And then the next day he started coughing violently.”
Although Kathaleen had also contracted the virus, she took her husband to the hospital so that he could soon receive intensive care. Because of her illness, she couldn’t be with him in the hospital until the test results came back negative on March 10.
Then, on March 14, she received an emergency call from the hospital. “They said, ‘Mrs. Wilhite, you need to get here immediately,” she told NPR. “‘He’s got worse, and you need to come.”
Wilhite died later that day at the age of 74. It has not been announced whether he was vaccinated.
Before retiring in 2001, the programmer worked at CompuServe, where he tinkered with the creation of a file format that supported both still and moving images. The cultural impact of his invention was honored in 2012 when the Oxford Dictionaries selected “GIF” as the word of the year.
His obituary note that he was also awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 for his revolutionary development. To accept the award, he played a GIF and got everyone thinking when he revealed that the correct pronunciation of the word is “jif” and not “gif” with a stiff “g”.
“He’s probably one of the nicest, most humble men you’ll ever meet,” his wife told NPR. “Our family loves him, you know – people love him and respect his work, and that means more to him than anything is the way they respect him. what he did.”