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Robert J. Koch, 79, Arundel Corp. head, transportation official


Robert J. Koch, who rose from a junior clerk to become president of the Arundel Corp. and later was an official with the Maryland Department of Transportation, died Monday of cancer at his North Baltimore home. He was 79.

It was while attending Towson High in the 1930s that Mr. Koch first worked for the Arundel Corp. as a junior clerk in the company's accounting department.

Born in Chester, Pa., and raised in Ruxton, Mr. Koch earned his degree in civil engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1939.

Commissioned in the Navy, he served in the Pacific aboard the Hornet II, a carrier, as a fire direction officer and saw action during the Guadalcanal campaign. He was discharged as a lieutenant in 1945.

He returned to Arundel Corp. as a project engineer and began working on such construction and public works projects as the Tuscarora Pump Generating Plant which was a component of the New York-Niagara Power Project Dam on the Niagara River in upstate New York. He also directed the construction of West Virginia's Sutton Place Dam, and locally, oversaw the building of Liberty Dam and the $11.6 million Ashburton Filtration Plant.

"He had integrity and was absolutely one of the most conscientious and fair-minded individuals I ever met in the construction business," said Myles H. McTernan of Cape Cod, Mass., a civil engineer who met Mr. Koch when the two worked on the Tuscarora project.

"He organized a cohesive unit that could have gone anywhere and built anything in the world. Under Bob's leadership, Arundel grew by leaps and bounds; and he was admired by everyone in the organization. He was an exceptional man, and I would have gone anywhere to work with him," he said.

Mr. McTernan praised Mr. Koch's ability to see that the job be done right and any mistakes immediately corrected.

"He took his work seriously. He always said, 'The buck stops here.' It was that kind of integrity that he imparted to others," he said.

Mr. McTernan described him as a "fearless worker to whom long hours meant nothing," and "in his work, [he] combined intelligence, integrity and confidence."

Mr. Koch was named president of Arundel Corp. in 1963 and succeeded C. Warren Black as chairman of the board in 1966.

In 1972, after retiring from the company, he went to work for the state Department of Transportation, then under the administration of Harry Hughes, later Maryland governor.

There, Mr. Koch administered contract claims involving the construction of the second Chesapeake Bay Bridge span and the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

In the 1980s, while working with the state's Mass Transit Administration, he organized and managed the Construction Claims Department during the building of the $800 million Baltimore Metro subway.

"From the standpoint of constructability of a project, he was of great help to us," Mr. Hughes, said yesterday. "He did an excellent job for the state. and in doing so, no doubt saved Maryland lots of money by reviewing contracts."

Mr. Koch had been a member of the boards of Maryland National Bank, Savings Bank of Baltimore, Maryland Slag Co. and Baltimore Brick Co. He also was a member of the American Society of Military Engineers.

In his retirement, Mr. Koch volunteered with Genesis Jobs Inc., a nonprofit organization in Remington that helps workers find entry-level positions.

He was an avid golfer. He was a former member of the Maryland Club, Bachelors Cotillon, Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, Center Club and Towson Elks.

He was a communicant of the Roman Catholic Shrine of the Sacred Heart, Smith and Greely avenues in Mount Washington, where a memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. today.

He is survived by his wife of 55 years, the former May Dulany Belt; a son, Robert P. Koch of Annapolis; three daughters, Catherine D. Koch of Denver, Rebecca B. Koch of Santa Fe, N.M., and Marietta K. Nolley of Homeland; a brother, Edward Koch of Englewood, Colo.; and 10 grandchildren.

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