George Frederick Kirchoff Jr. died July 29, 2020. He was born Aug. 26, 1932, to Regina Moreno and George Frederick Kirchoff in Birmingham, Ala.

He graduated in 1955 from Auburn University, Auburn, Ala., with a degree in engineering physics, and joined the Naval Air program at Pensacola, Fla. George served as a naval aviator flying a single-engine aircraft. He was deployed to the Far East aboard the U.S. Aircraft Carrier USS Princeton and left the Navy in 1959 as a lieutenant.

George and his wife, Gene, moved to Annandale, Va., and he began his rewarding career in engineering. George was employed as a project engineer by Atlantic Research Corp. and helped develop the ARCAS sounding rocket. He was instrumental in establishing the Meteorological Rocket Network used in forecasting and missile launching.

From 1963 to 1972, George was a program manager for Northrop Carolina Corp. in Asheville, N.C., developing a combustible sounding rocket for meteorological soundings, a controllable Solid Rocket Motor for space applications and numerous military flares and munitions.

George joined the aerospace firm Thiokol Corp. in 1972 as a rocket engineer, and he, Gene, and their three children moved to Utah. He became a co-inventor on numerous projects for rocket launchers. When Thiokol Corp. merged with Morton Norwich Inc. and the companies split in 1989, George stayed with Morton, later named Morton International. He and his team were responsible for developing the airbag for automobiles, a monumental achievement.

George served as vice president of automotive programs, vice president of automotive safety programs and later as managing director of Morton International Europe. He and his family relocated to Germany for several years. In 1998, as senior vice president of automotive programs, George retired from Morton International/Autoliv.

George earned numerous awards during his career. In 1978, he was the recipient of the first Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Safety Award for Engineering Excellence.” In 1990, He was elected a “Fellow” in the Society of Automotive Engineers, serving on its Inflatable Restraints Standards Committee.

In 1991, George was awarded the “H.H. Bliss Award” by Ralph Nader for pioneering work in automotive air bags and occupant safety. In 1994, George received the “Safety Engineering Excellence Award” from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 1997, he received a “Pathfinder Award” from the Automotive Occupant Restraints’ Council, which describes George as "a person who starts down a new path armed with nothing but his own vision and integrity."

In 1998, George became president of the Automotive Occupant Restraints’ Council (now known as the Automotive Safety Council), serving in that position until his retirement in 2008. During this time, he was awarded the “Safety Champion Award” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for “Your lifelong dedication and commitment to motor vehicle safety.”

Recognizing George's passion and achievements in engineering and safety, BMW presented George the “Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2011, “In recognition of your many years of tireless innovation on automotive airbags to help save lives and reduce serious injuries, anonymous to those you protected, but well known to those of us who respect your pioneering accomplishments, your lifetime of achievements are recognized and appreciated.”

George's passion extended to his family and church, which provided strength and support throughout his life. He was loved and respected for his generosity of spirit and concern for others. He led with a smile, and he and Gene, his partner of 63 years, studied and learned together, and opened their home and hearts to many friends.

He was a Sunday school teacher, a lay speaker and a Stephen Minister at the Fairhope United Methodist Church. He was also an active member of the Fairhope Rotary Club and SCORE.

He leaves his beloved wife, Gene Golson Kirchoff; children Eleanor Gene Nickelsberg (Barry), Daniel Anderson Kirchoff (Jennifer) and Jon Frederick Kirchoff (Amy); grandchildren Sara Elizabeth Billian (Miles), Joshua David Billian, Angela Kirchoff and Anders Kirchoff, and his only sister, Margaret Kirchoff Pennington.

A memorial service will be held later. Memorials can be made to Fairhope United Methodist Church, Caring Ministries, 155 South Section St., Fairhope, AL 36532.