Retired Ford Motor Co. executive Helen Petrauskas died late Wednesday, March 8, in Michigan after a battle with cancer, a Ford official said. She was 61.
Petrauskas retired from Ford in 2001 as vice president of environmental and safety engineering. She had been with the automaker for 30 years.
In a statement released Thursday, March 9, the automaker said Petrauskas was a behind-the scenes force in getting airbags into vehicles.
During her final year at Ford, Petrauskas was in the public eye fielding queries about the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire rollover crisis.
Born in Lviv, Ukraine, in 1944, Petrauskas' family fled the communist country when she was only three days old. She and her family spent three years on an Austrian farm before they began their journey to America.
"What I remember most about those years was the example my parents set," Petrauskas once said, according to the Ford release. "They never complained. They made the most of what life gave them and retained a remarkable enthusiasm for life."
Petrauskas received a bachelor's degree in mathematics and a law degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. She joined Ford in 1971 as a staff attorney on emissions and safety. She became a Ford vice president in 1983.
Former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Diane Steed (1983-89) said Petrauskas deserves credit for getting airbags into vehicles, the Ford release said. "She worked tirelessly behind the scenes to do what had to be done to make the safety case for airbags and help us figure a way to make that happen."
In 2000, Petrauskas was named one of the 100 leading women in the auto industry by Automotive News. After her retirement, she sat on one corporate board, La-Z-Boy Inc. in Monroe, Mich.
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