Giffen B. "Giff" Nickol Sr., a retired chemical engineer who worked with the Navy's nuclear submarine fleet, died Thursday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center of injuries he suffered in a fall last month. The Idlewylde resident was 83.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Christopher Avenue in Hamilton, he helped support his family after his father contracted tuberculosis. He caddied at Clifton Park golf course, set duckpins in a bowling alley and drove an ice truck even though he had no driver's license, said his son, Giffen B. Nickol Jr. of Bel Air.
Mr. Nickol was a 1942 Polytechnic Institute graduate and worked at Revere Copper and Brass in Southwest Baltimore while serving as a civilian volunteer in a Coast Guard auxiliary unit during World War II.
In 1947, he worked as a chemist and did engineering work at the Navy Marine Engineering Laboratory, later called the David Taylor Naval Ship Research and Development Center in Annapolis.
Family members said he received three patents, including one before he earned his degree in chemical engineering from the Johns Hopkins University in 1967.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he helped to develop and test the air-scrubber systems used on nuclear submarines.
"As a civilian engineer, he sailed on virtually all of the nuclear submarine sea trials of that period," Giffen Nickol Jr. said of his father.
In April 1963, Mr. Nickol was slated to sail on the USS Thresher, then the Navy's newest and most advanced nuclear submarine. Family members said his travel orders were changed on short notice and that another civilian engineer went in his place. On April 10, the Thresher sank 220 miles east of Boston during a deep-diving test, with the loss of 133, including officers, enlisted men and civilians.
"His face turned white when he heard the news," his son said, adding that his father seldom spoke of the Thresher but kept a framed photograph of the submarine displayed in his home the rest of his life.
Later in his career, Mr. Nickol worked on pollution abatement for Navy craft and used to refer to himself jokingly as the "world's highest-paid garbage man."
He also told his son that "nothing was more beautiful than standing on the deck of a darkened ship and looking at the stars."
He retired in 1984.
Mr. Nickol enjoyed listening to classical music. He also cooked, grew vegetables, read, fished and crabbed. He spent his Wednesday nights at Dixieland music sessions at Bertha's in Fells Point. A wall plaque honors his longtime patronage.
He was the Scoutmaster for Cub Scout Pack 133 in Govans from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s.
He was a parishioner and an usher at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans for more than 50 years.
"He did not have much materially growing up and worked hard for everything he got," his son said. "He placed value on the simple things in life, and admired, befriended and mentored people who worked to better themselves."
Mr. Nickol donated his body for medical research. No services are planned.
In addition to his son, survivors include two other sons, Michael A. Nickol of Ridgely and Stephen G. Nickol of Stevensville; a sister, Anna M. Humphreys of Bel Air; and two grandsons. His wife of 44 years, the former Collette M. "Jeanne" McDonald, died in 1992.