J. Owen Cole, 76, president of bank, area businessman


J. Owen Cole, retired president of the old First National Bank and a fixture in the Baltimore business community for more than 45 years, died of cancer Nov. 2 at his vacation home in Lincolnville, Maine. The Annapolis resident was 76.

Mr. Cole sat on numerous boards of local industries. He traveled extensively as a trade development consultant for then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer, a longtime friend who named him to the Maryland Transportation Commission, BWI Airport Commission and Maryland Port Commission.

"I had enormous respect for him," said Mr. Schaefer, now the state comptroller. "He traveled overseas for the state, but never talked about money. He was an intelligent man, so soft-spoken you had to listen intently to his words. He had a great way about him and everyone just liked to be near him."

"He was a true friend of the port," former Rep. Helen Delich Bentley said of Mr. Cole, who was honored in 1990 as Port Leader of the Year. "He gave us fine advice and was always ready to work in any overseas arena. He was also a real gentleman. He always had a smile."

Born in Forest City, N.C., he was a graduate of Duke University and served in the Marine Corps.

He moved to Baltimore in 1956 as a management trainee for First National Bank of Maryland, and rose through the organization. Elected president in 1968, he was named chairman of the board and president in May 1973. He retired as chief executive officer in 1984.

Mr. Cole served as a director on a number of boards, including the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, Black and Decker USA, USF&G, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Easco Hand Tools Inc., the Farm Credit Bank, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, where he was chairman from 1994 to 1996.

He had been a director for the American Red Cross and Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, served as president of the Maryland Bankers Association and chairman of Baltimore's National Alliance of Businessmen, and been a member of the Greater Baltimore Committee and Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

He was a trustee for the old Baltimore College of Commerce and sat on the boards of Goucher College, Severn School, what was then the University of Maryland at Baltimore, and the Johns Hopkins Center for Urban Studies.

In his banking capacity, he was a member of the Comptroller of the Currency's Advisory Committee and a member of the Federal Advisory Council for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve.

In his free time, Mr. Cole enjoyed woodworking and sailing.

Services are private.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, the former Katherine Stuart Davidson; six sons, Mark D. Cole, D. Matthew Cole, Benjamin D. Cole, Chapman S. Cole and John Owen Cole Jr., all of Annapolis, and Jamie C. Cole of Lincolnville; a daughter, Molly F. Cole of Hope, Maine; two sisters, Helen Krause of Forest City and Margaret McGinnis of Kings Mountain, N.C.; and 11 grandchildren.

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