Former Howard County Executive William "Ned" Eakle, 86, died Tuesday morning following a brief illness, according to the county.
Eakle, of Elkridge, served as county executive for nine months. In March 1986, then county executive J. Hugh Nichols left office with less than a year remaining in his term. The County Council appointed Eakle, who was the county administrator at the time, to serve the remainder of Nichols' term.
Liz Bobo was elected county executive in November 1986. When her term started in December that year, she reappointed Eakle county administrator.
In an interview Tuesday, Bobo recalled Eakle as a "good man" who worked "diligently" as county executive.
"He was one of the kindest people I have ever known," she said. "He had very clear and strong opinions on public policy, (but) he really treated everyone with respect no matter how much they disagreed with his perspective."
Deputy administrator of the county Office of Public Information Kathy Sloan-Beard, who had kept in touch with her former boss over the years, said Eakle was often asked by people to run for county executive but "he liked being a more behind-the-scenes kind of guy."
Sloan-Beard said Eakle visited the county offices often after he retired December 1988.
"There was probably not a three month period that would go by after he retired that he wouldn't pop in and pay us a visit," she said.
Every Halloween, the Office of Public Information staff would dress up together and Eakle would take them out to lunch, often participating in the costume theme the staff chose, Sloan-Beard recalled, noting he was "kind of a father figure" to some county employees.
"He cared a whole lot about Howard County (and) especially cared a lot about Howard County employees," she said. "He was always looking out for them"
In a statement, current County Executive Ken Ulman called Eakle "a great leader and a great friend," as well as "an outstanding public servant who believed in his country, his county and his employees."
Eakle quickly climbed the ranks of Howard County government, starting as a part-time employee in 1975 assisting with personnel issues. He was soon after hired as the county's management services administrator. In 1977, then County Executive Ed Cochran promoted Eakle to county administrator.
"He was really instrumental in bringing the county into modern management systems," county budget administrator Ray Wacks said.
Wacks, who started working for the county in 1974, said Eakle was good at his job, which involved managing county staff during a period in which Howard was transitioning from a county commissioner system to a charter county system.
"He understood people and he knew how to get the best out of people," Wacks said. "He didn't shout, he didn't scream, but you knew he was boss."
Before working for the county, Eakle worked for the National Brewing Company.
"The county was his second career; his first career was in beer," Wacks said.
After retiring, Eakle remained active in the county, serving on the Personnel Board for many years.
"He was a frequent visitor to county offices and was famous for his warm smile and great sense of humor," Ulman said in the statement. "I want to express my deepest condolences to Ned's wife Agnes, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We will miss him."
One of Eakle's children had leukemia and died as a toddler.
"That had had a real impact on him and I think left him with a lot of empathy for people and their problems and their issues," Wacks said.
State Sen. Jim Robey said Eakle "was one of the finest men" and "also one of the most funny men" he'd ever met.
"He was a big supporter of mine, gave me a lot of advice about what to do and not to do running for office," Robey said, referring to when he was running for county executive.
Eakle helped out on Robey's campaign and talked to him while he was serving as county executive. Though Eakle was a Democrat, he was "very fiscally conservative," Robey said.
"A lot of the issues I would discuss with him about spending money, he said 'no,' " he said.
Added Robey: "I don't think there is anyone in Howard County who could say anything bad about him."
Sloan-Beard agreed Eakle was "very well known and very much loved."
Funeral arrangements have not been released.