The former West Friendship resident was 86.
"We lost a part of our Howard County family — a great leader and a great friend," said County Executive Kenneth S. Ulman in a statement. "He was an outstanding public servant who believed in his county, his country and his employees."
The son of an electrician and a homemaker, William E. Eakle was born and raised in Elkridge.
After graduating from high school in 1943, he enrolled in the Navy's V-12 College Training Program that prepared officers for duty during World War II. He studied at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Va., until being commissioned an ensign. He later was commissioned a lieutenant and served in Shanghai until being discharged in 1946.
He earned a bachelor's degree in naval sciences in 1945 from the University of South Carolina and did graduate work at the University of Maryland, College Park in 1947.
Mr. Eakle went to work in 1947 on the production line at Seagram Distillers in Relay, later becoming a supervisor.
In 1954, he left Seagram's when he began a two-decade career with the National Brewing Co., which later became Carling National Breweries Inc., in Baltimore and at its offices in Detroit. He rose to become the company's corporate director of labor and personnel and held that position until it was eliminated in 1974.
A year later, he began his career with Howard County as a consultant. In 1977, he was named by then-County Executive Edward L. Cochran to the No. 2 job as county administrator.
He stayed in the position after J. Hugh Nichols was elected county executive in 1978. When Mr, Nichols left office nine months early in 1986 after taking a job with a New Orleans-based utilities conglomerate, the County Council chose Mr. Eakle to finish the former executive's term.
Mr. Eakle made $66,942 a year as county administrator, about $19,500 more than the $47,500 that was paid Mr. Nichols. But he was fairly sanguine about the loss of income.
"That's one of those things you've got to give up in government," Mr. Eakle told The Baltimore Sun in an interview at the time. "There are just certain things you have to give up — at least I think so.
"If you make a decision to do something, you take the consequences that go with it, and that's one of the things that goes with this decision," he said.
In another interview with the newspaper at the time, Mr. Eakle said, "I was born in Howard County. I've been a lifelong resident here. I feel that a government service job is somewhat of a service. If you are asked to do something that may not always be profitable to you, if you can reasonably do it, then you should do it."
Mr. Eakle elaborated on his philosophy of government when he told a Sun reporter in an interview, "We are here to do a job. If we are successful, I am happy. It does not matter to me who gets the credit, as long as the job is well done."
After Elizabeth "Liz" Bobo ,now a state delegate, was elected county executive in the fall of 1986, Mr. Eakle returned to his old job as county administrator. "He was a public servant of absolute integrity. He did what he thought was right without a lot of agonizing," said Del. Bobo, who worked with him for eight years and was a longtime friend. "And he treated everyone with respect whether he agreed with them or not."
"Ned was a wonderful person who did a wonderful job in all his years in county government," said former County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who later retired from Carroll County public schools, where he was superintendent.
"He'd stop into county offices fairly often to chat. He was a friendly, warm guy, who was very much behind the scenes. He was influential but had a quiet side."
"He remained active in community service after his retirement and served on the county's personnel board for many years," said Mr. Ulman.
Mr. Eakle, a tall, white-haired fatherly figure — who was recalled as being tough but fair — worked for years in the George Howard Building until retiring in 1988.
In his retirement, Mr. Eakle still continued dropping by county offices to visit with old friends and colleagues.
"He had a great sense of humor and a quick wit," said Kathleen Sloan-Beard, deputy administrator in the Howard County Office of Public Information.
"The public information staff had a long tradition of dressing up each Halloween. We'd pick a theme — the characters from Robin Hood, Alice in Wonderland; we were can-can girls, construction workers — you name it," said Ms. Sloan-Beard. "He always played along, often dressing up himself, and then took the whole group out to lunch."
He had been an active member of the Elkridge Heritage Society and had been a member of the Optimist Club.
Mr. Eakle and his wife of 63 years, the former Agnes Fitzsimmons, moved to the Charlestown retirement community two years ago.
When he was younger, he enjoyed fishing, family members said. He had also traveled to Ireland and Italy.
Mr. Eakle was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Church of the Resurrection, 3175 Paulskirk Drive, Ellicott City, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Eakle is survived by four sons, Charles E. "Ned" Eakle Jr. of Mount Airy, Tim Eakle of Ellicott City, Tom Eakle of Columbia and Steve Eakle of Elkridge; two daughters, Patty Fipocz of Eldersburg and Linda Schnell of New Market; 17 grandchildren; 17 great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson. Another son, James Eakle, died in 2004; a daughter, Judith Eakle, died in 1959.