John T. Collinson, a fourth-generation railroader who headed the Chessie System and Seaboard System railroads before his retirement as vice chairman of CSX Corp., died yesterday in Cleveland after a brief illness.
Mr. Collinson, 66, had been battling cancer and was admitted to University Hospital in Cleveland Wednesday night because of chest pains, according to CSX spokesman Thomas E. Hoppin.
He retired in 1987 after a 41-year career that began with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, in routine engineering "grunt work" that included maintenance inspection, walking the tracks, and accident investigation, according to a son, Donald L. Collinson.
Born and reared in Pennsylvania, Mr. Collinson had homes in Cleveland and Naples, Fla.
He served in the Navy from 1943 to 1946, when he received his degree in civil engineering at Cornell University -- at the age of 19 -- through a naval officers training program. Then he went to work for the railroad.
He advanced quickly through the engineering and operating departments of the CSX predecessor companies, becoming vice president for operations of Chessie in 1973 and executive vice president in 1976.
He was elected president of the C&O and B&O in 1978, chief executive officer of Chessie System Railroads in 1980 and chairman of Chessie and Seaboard in 1985.
Widely known for his rail engineering and operating expertise and his knowledge of the coal industry -- a major part of the railroad business -- Mr. Collinson served from 1981 to 1985 as a U.S. representative to the Coal Industry Advisory Board of the International Energy Agency, headquartered in Paris.
His long associations with the American Management Association included a three-year term as vice president of its General Management Council.
He served on the corporate boards of the CSX Corp., the National City Corp. and National City Bank of Cleveland, Richmond Fredericksburg & Potomac Railroad, the National Mine Service Co. and, in Baltimore, the Monumental Corp.
He also was a director of the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, remaining as a member of the board until his death.
He lived in the Baltimore area for about 20 years -- from 1947 to 1950, in the early days of his railroad career, and from 1955 to 1972 with the family home, first in Rodgers Forge and then in Catonsville.
In Maryland for many years, the "B&O Holly Tree" was Mr. Collinson's special project -- an annual company holiday season event decorating a century-old tree along a railroad siding in Jackson, Cecil County.
He also had been a member here of the Second Presbyterian Church and the Catonsville Presbyterian Church.
Survivors include his wife of 45 years, the former Patricia Ann Davison; two sons, Donald of Syracuse, N.Y., and John G. Collinson II, a CSX transportation general manager in Jacksonville, Fla.; a daughter, Nancy Anne McGinty of Pepper Pike, Ohio; two sisters, Jane Collinson Hayhurst of Parkersburg, W.Va., and Ruth Collinson Rubin of New York City; and seven grandchildren.
A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday in Anderson Hall of the Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
The family suggested that donations may be made to the Ireland Cancer Center, 2074 Abbington Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44106.