Stephen Wilhite Creator Of The GIF Passes Away, And It's Pronounced JIF

Stephen E. Wilhite obituary page
Stephen E. Wilhite, creator of the GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) file format, has passed away from complications related to the Covid-19 virus.  He as 74 years old when symptoms from the disease came on suddenly. Prior to his passing, Wilhite and his wife Kathaleen had been planning a series of camping trips.

It's a tragic loss on a number of levels. According to his obituary, Wilhite had retired as Chief Architect at America Online, and had previously received the Webby lifetime achievement award in New York.

"He was an avid camper and loved traveling and camping. Even with all his accomplishments, he remained a very humble, kind, and good man," the obituary states.

Wilhite had also worked a CompuServe in the 1980s, before it was acquired by AOL, and it was there that he served as the Engineering Lead on the team that invented the GIF. Now several decades later, the file format is a prominent part of modern online culture, with animated GIFs often shared on social media and in text messages.

The invention of the GIF led to his Webby award in 2013, and official clarification on its proper pronunciation. During his acceptance speech, Wilhite flashed a GIF that read, "It's pronounced JIF, not GIF," as shown above. The debate rages on even now, but for anyone wondering, there you go.

"He was probably one of the kindest, humble men you've ever met," Kathaleen told NPR. "I've been reading about [the responses online] all afternoon, and I can't even tell you how it comforts you."

If you'd like to leave a thoughtful message of your own, there's a tribute wall on his obituary posted at Megie Funeral Home where you can do so.