Austin Emerson Penn, 94, BGE president who started as office boy

August 13, 1999|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Austin Emerson Penn, an office boy who became president of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., died Tuesday in his sleep at Charlestown Retirement Community. He was 94.

Mr. Penn retired in 1969 as the utility's chairman and chief executive officer. During his tenure, BGE built its Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland.

Born on a Mount Airy farm, he had two years at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute when he quit school at age 15 and joined the old Consolidated Gas Electric Light & Power Co. of Baltimore as an office boy.

By going to night school, he finished his high school education and received a degree in accounting from the YMCA School of Commerce -- later the Baltimore College of Commerce. He was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1934.

He rose through the ranks at BGE and was elected president in 1961. He became chairman of the board in 1963.

Known to friends as Jack, he was viewed in the company as a fair and open-minded boss with a knack for numbers.

"The hallmarks of his career were character and integrity," said his son, Richard E. Penn of Freeland. "He was a homespun individual, a quiet man with a good wit. He didn't like the limelight."

He had been a director of Commercial Credit Co., Black & Decker Manufacturing, Eutaw Savings Bank, Monumental Life Insurance Co. and Union Trust Co.

The year he left the utility, then-Gov. Marvin Mandel appointed him the first chairman of the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

In commenting on the appointment, The Sun in an editorial described him as "thorough, businesslike, forceful and dedicated."

As chairman, Mr. Penn oversaw the state's purchase of the old Baltimore Transit Co., the privately held firm whose buses were the principal means of public transportation in the city.

He was active in many civic organizations and headed the United Way of Central Maryland and the YMCA. In 1965, Mr. Penn served on the board of the Community Action Agency Commission and fought off attempts to have its budget slashed. He argued before the city council that neighborhoods needed adequate staffing in community centers.

He worked on a committee that pushed to get the World Trade Center off the drawing boards. He was a member of the Committee for Downtown, one of the groups that championed the reconstruction of the business district that led to the creation of Charles Center and renewal of the Inner Harbor.

He was a former trustee of the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Church Pension Fund, the Wesley Home in Mount Washington, Western Maryland College, Goucher College and the Baltimore College of Commerce.

He enjoyed woodworking and sailing in the Chesapeake Bay. He was a member of the Grachur Club, a church-sponsored group that has its clubhouse on the Magothy River.

He was married for 54 years to the former Emily Frances Wood, a fine-arts weaver who died in 1988.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Aug. 23 at Grace United Methodist Church, 5407 N. Charles St., where Mr. Penn was a longtime member.

In addition to his son, he is survived by three daughters, Ann W. Penn of Sequim, Wash., Carol A. Tippett of Bethesda and Susan B. LaMotte of Gaithersburg; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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