Cover photo for Billy Edward Welch's Obituary
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1929 Billy 2024

Billy Edward Welch

September 16, 1929 — April 12, 2024

Red Oak, Texas

Billy E. Welch, known affectionately as “Poppa Bill” by his family, passed away on April 12, 2024, at the age of 94. A pioneering scientist, patriot, and devoted family man, his life was a testament to the virtues of service, wisdom, and kindness.

Born on September 16, 1929 in West, Texas, Billy was the son of Perry and Elizabeth Welch. After graduating from Woodsboro High School in 1946, he attended Abilene Christian College, earning a B.S. in chemistry in 1950. He pursued his graduate studies at Texas A&M University, where he earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in biochemistry.

Billy’s dedication to his country was evident through his service in the U.S. Army at the U.S. Army Nutrition Laboratory in Fitzsimmons Army Hospital from 1954 to 1957. After a stint at Northrop Aircraft Corp., he joined the staff at the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in 1959, where he made lasting contributions to aerospace medicine and environmental science. His work was particularly instrumental in advancing the Air Force’s capabilities in integrating human elements into increasingly complex mechanical systems, and his research in the field of spacecraft atmospheres ultimately proved indispensable to the success of the U.S. manned spaceflight program. Moreover, his vision for incorporating computer-based instructional systems into American classrooms provided a foundation for today’s researchers, technologists, and educators exploring the transformative power of artificial intelligence as a teaching tool.

Billy was named Special Assistant for Environmental Quality in the Secretariat of the Air Force in 1972 and would spend the next five years at the Pentagon developing Air Force policies and programs that aligned with national environmental goals. He returned to Brooks Air Force Base in 1977 to serve as Deputy Director of the USAF School of Aerospace Medicine, before becoming the Chief Scientist in the Human Systems Division of Air Force Systems Command in 1982. Seven years later, he was named the first Director of the Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratory, a post he held until his retirement in 1994.

In 1956, Billy wed Dorothy Poling, and together they shared 59 loving years of marriage until her passing. The couple was blessed with four children: William, Rebecca, Janet, and Susan, who in turn gave them nine grandchildren. After Dorothy’s passing, Billy again found love and married Joy Pierce, his best friend and constant companion for the past eight years. Together, they enjoyed participating in church activities and spending time with their large and loving family, including eight great-grandchildren.

Billy was a Christian and a longtime member of the MacArthur Park Church of Christ, where he was known for his warmth and wisdom. His faith and dedication to service inspired all who knew him and his passion for scientific discovery and exploring the cosmos often ignited a similar yearning in those he worked with and mentored. Just a few days before his death, he was thrilled to witness the 2024 Total Eclipse, a fitting celestial commemoration of a lifetime spent in service to humanity.  

Billy E. Welch leaves behind a legacy of excellence, service, and profound generosity. He was a beacon of knowledge and guidance for his family, colleagues, and community and a never-ending source of illuminating wisdom and wry humor. He is survived by his loving wife, Joy; his children, William Welch (Marcia), Rebecca Royse (Scott), Janet Dillard (Doug), and Susan Glaeser (Alan); his grandchildren, Emily (Brian), Aaron (Bethany), Valerie (Miles), Derek (Millie), J.P., John (Emmy), Kyle (MariClaire), Michael (Heather), and Jaclyn (Jaime); and his great-grandchildren, Hollis, Hendrix, Ruby, Eloise, Margot, River, and Wyatt. He is also survived by Joy’s son, Chris and wife Donna; her grandchildren, Britta (Brian), Jenna (Mark) and Travis; and her great-grandson, Rowan. 

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the MacArthur Park Church of Christ (1907 NE Loop 410, San Antonio, TX 78217) in honor of Billy.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Billy Edward Welch, please visit our flower store.

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