Robert McGowan, CSX executive

[ Age 83 ] Official was in charge of coordinating B&O and C&O railroads, and managed assets for Chessie System.

Mr. McGowan was in charge of a top-secret bunker built beneath a West Virginia resort.

June 20, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Robert C. McGowan, a retired CSX official who had guided the affiliation of the Baltimore & Ohio and the Chesapeake & Ohio railroads in the 1960s, and also was in charge of the top-secret congressional bunker underneath a West Virginia resort hotel, died of Parkinson's disease Monday at the Brightwood Center in Lutherville. He was 83.

Mr. McGowan was born and raised in Bloomfield, N.J. His college studies at Bucknell University were interrupted during World War II, when he enlisted in the Navy and served as an ensign aboard a destroyer in the South Pacific.

After earning his bachelor's degree in accounting from Bucknell in 1947, he went to work for General Electric Co. in New Jersey, as manager of budget systems.

In 1951, he joined the finance department of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway at its Terminal Tower headquarters building in Cleveland and was named comptroller eight years later.

Mr. McGowan moved to the Hampton section of Baltimore County in 1963, when he was appointed vice president of planning, with the responsibility of coordinating the operations of the B&O and C&O railroads.

He later was responsible for introducing computers to the combined railroads when he oversaw the installation of a UNIVAC 1 system.

When the Association of American Railroads created its data systems division in the 1960s, Mr. McGowan was elected its first chairman.

In 1974, when Chessie System, forerunner of CSX Corp., established Chessie Resources Inc. to manage its real estate holdings and other nonrail assets, it named Mr. McGowan president of the newly created subsidiary.

Under Mr. McGowan's administration were extensive oil and gas interests in the United States, Iran and Morocco, substantial timberlands, the Greenbrier Hotel at White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., and 50,000 acres of prime real estate worth $250 million at the time, according to an article in The Evening Sun at the time.

The most secret and classified asset under his direction - the existence of which was known but to a few - was the Emergency Relocation Center, built in the late 1950s and 1960s deep beneath the posh Greenbrier Hotel. Its function was to house the Congress in the event of a nuclear attack.

The bunker, now open for public tours, was decommissioned after a 1992 article in The Washington Post revealed the existence of the three-story concrete facility - including a massive meeting hall with 110 urinals - that could house 535 members of Congress and 565 staffers, and had cost the U.S. Defense Department $10 million to build.

"Only a few in the government knew that it existed and he was the civilian point of contact," said Mary M. McGowan, a daughter-in-law.

"We grew up on the railroad together. He was a very talented associate and a great individual and one of the finest and most intelligent and uplifting individuals I've ever known," said Hays T. Watkins, former chairman of CSX Corp., and friend for more than 50 years.

"He had the ability to work well with people and played a key role in putting the two railroads together and at the Greenbrier, where he had a top security clearance," Mr. Watkins said. "I'll always have a warm spot in my heart for Bob McGowan."

Other projects that Mr. McGowan was associated in those years included the restoration of the B&O's headquarters building at Charles and Baltimore streets, the James Center in Richmond, Va., and River City in Chicago.

Mr. McGowan made national headlines in 1976 when Ashby Leach, a disgruntled former Chessie employee, took 12 hostages at gunpoint on the 36th floor of the Terminal Tower Building.

When the gunman demanded a railroad executive for a hostage, Mr. McGowan, a burly former college football star, volunteered to join the others. They were later released after Leach surrendered to police.

At the time of Mr. McGowan's retirement in 1986 from CSX in Richmond, the railroad was the largest private real estate holder east of the Mississippi River.

Mr. McGowan and his wife moved to the Brightwood Center in 2000.

He was a former member of the Baltimore Country Club, the Commonwealth Club and the Country Club of Virginia. He enjoyed traveling, golfing and fishing.

Plans for a memorial service were incomplete yesterday.

Also surviving are his wife of 60 years, the former Jean Carlson; three sons, Robert C. McGowan Jr. of Towson, Christopher N. McGowan of Virginia Beach, Va., and Matthew S. McGowan of New York City; a sister, Susan J. Price of Ball Ground, Ga.; and eight grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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