William L. Ollerhead, 76, Chessie System executive

October 20, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William L. Ollerhead, retired Chessie System Inc. senior vice president and former deputy director of the Maryland Port Authority, died Monday of a massive heart attack at North Collier Hospital in Naples, Fla. He was 76.

Mr. Ollerhead, a tall and commanding presence whose broad New England accent revealed his origins, joined Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as assistant vice president for foreign traffic in 1962, and a year later was named vice president for freight sales.

He was promoted to head the general merchandise department and also supervised the railroad's nationwide sales force. He retired in 1985.

"He was well-respected on the B&O and later the Chessie System as well as throughout the industry," said E. Ray Lichty, who retired in 1994 from CSX Transportation as vice president of coal traffic.

"He really knew the merchandising and marketing end of the business and his motto was simple to the sales force: `Get out and sell freight,' " Mr. Lichty said.

Gifted with an outgoing personality and a deep liking for people, Mr. Ollerhead liked to, when possible, conduct business away from his desk, preferring the links instead.

"He was a good golfer and used the golf course to sell on a personal basis. That was his style," Mr. Lichty said.

Known as a tough but fair competitor, Mr. Ollerhead was a "man you didn't mess around with. Don't ever try to pull anything on him," said Mr. Lichty, laughing.

Mr. Ollerhead began his railroading career in his native Boston in 1941 when he joined Pennsylvania Railroad's freight department. He moved to posts in New Haven, Conn., and New York, where he entered the foreign traffic field.

He came to Baltimore with Pennsylvania Railroad in the mid-1950s as manager of foreign traffic sales and, in 1958, joined the port authority as director of trade development. He was named deputy director in 1962.

During his port authority tenure, he helped establish the organization's offices in New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago, and overseas offices in London and Brussels. He also negotiated access for Pennsylvania, B&O and Canton railroads to serve then-newly constructed Dundalk Marine Terminal.

"Bill was low-key. He wasn't flamboyant. He was a doer who worked in a very methodical way. He never left anything undone," Helen Delich Bentley, a former Republican congresswoman and federal maritime commissioner, said yesterday.

"When he felt the Pennsylvania Railroad wasn't supporting the port of Baltimore and was more interested in Philadelphia, he worked hard to turn that around. He was highly regarded and a very honorable person," she said.

"When Jervis Langdon, then president of the B&O, hired him in 1962, he was trying to get young people who had a different way of thinking to help revitalize and take the railroad in a new direction," said Herbert H. Harwood, a retired Chessie System executive.

"He was one of the young Turks who took the B&O on a different course and in doing so had a very distinguished career," he said.

Born in Boston, Mr. Ollerhead attended Northeastern University. During World War II, he served in the Army and was discharged with the rank of lieutenant.

The former Lutherville resident, who moved to Naples in the late 1980s, was married in 1945 to Caroline A. Leary, who died this year. A daughter, Kathryn Anne McCardell, died in 1975.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at noon Saturday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Cockeysville.

He is survived by three sons, William S. Ollerhead of Cockeysville, Stephen D. Ollerhead of Towson and Robert S. Ollerhead of Mount Pleasant, S.C.; and seven grandchildren.

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