Eugene A. “Gene” Arbaugh, who went from a Carroll County store clerk to heading the old PHH auto fleet leasing firm, died of respiratory illness Nov. 18 at his Lutherville home. He was 84.
“Gene and his management team were committed to building PH&H into an important regional company. They built a job base for thousands of employees over the years. They had a terrific business and a terrific presence in Baltimore,” said Donald Hutchinson, a former Baltimore county executive.
Born in Manchester, he was the only child of Harry Arbaugh, a shoemaker and Helen Albaugh, a homemaker. He was an accomplished athlete who played soccer and baseball for Manchester High School.
At age 17, he was scouted for a farm team of the old Kansas City Athletics baseball team. His mother advised against signing, saying he should complete his education.
He worked at Carr’s department store while a student at what was then Western Maryland College and is now McDaniel College. He also was a member of the school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps.
“Gene and I were stock boys and checkout packers,” Carroll County Times columnist Dean Minnich said in a 2012 story. “We’d compete to see how many bags of sugar we could carry up 20 steps from the basement where inventory was stacked on wooden pallets.”
He met his future wife on a blind date.
“He was a senior and I was a freshman,” Starr Anne Beauchamp said. “It was the first semester. He had no idea of falling in love and marrying. The next thing you know, we were getting married in my junior year. We had a lovely courtship.”
She said they never had a Saturday night date because he was working at the store.
“I told my friends I’d be going out with the best guy in the world, but not until Tuesday,” she said.
Mr. Arbaugh was a member of the Gamma Beta Chi fraternity.
He joined the Air Force and was assigned to the Thule Air Base in Greenland. He was later a captain in the Maryland National Guard.
“We were then engaged and our communications were on a military line, and there were always two soldiers censoring our calls,” his wife said. “Occasionally the censors chuckled at us.”
After leaving the military, he graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law and worked at a Coca-Cola bottling plant to pay his tuition.
He married Starr Anne Beauchamp on April 14, 1962.
Mr. Arbaugh joined Peterson, Howell and Heather in 1964 as a member of the legal department and as manager of the contract administration, title and tax departments, before becoming vice president of all legal services in 1971. He rose through the company’s ranks in the 1970s.
“Gene was an industry leader speaking for mandatory seat belts before the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington,” said J. Calvin Jenkins, a friend for 50 years. “He was a true leader who didn’t focus on himself. He had a good aura. If you could call Central Casting and send me a good friend, you would hope to get Gene Arbaugh.”
“Under Arbaugh’s leadership, the company became a fleet management industry innovator. While serving as senior VP, he was responsible for expanding truck and equipment programs,” said an article in the trade publication Automotive Fleet magazine.
In 1980, Mr. Arbaugh was named president, first of Peterson, Howell and Heather Inc. and later of the entire company whose name had become PHH.
He managed the acquisition of Avis Leasing’s domestic fleet operation.
Mr. Arbaugh was named to the Fleet Leasing Hall of Fame in 2008.
His firm had 150 employees when he joined it. When he retired fully, PHH had been acquired and the parent business had thousands on its payroll.
He and others negotiated the sale of the firm and he retired from PHH and became a Cendant Corp. executive. He retired in 2009.
Colleagues said Mr. Arbaugh recognized the importance of equality and promoting women and minorities in the workplace.
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He and his wife traveled the world. He was an active member of the Baltimore Country Club for more than 30 years.
“He never held a golf club until his mid-30s, so he was particularly proud of his two hole-in-ones,” said a daughter, Caroline S. Arbaugh. “He also loved to fish and did so with his children and later even more so with his grandchildren.”
Mr. Arbaugh served on the boards of the Maryvale School and Western Maryland College. He was an honorary board member of the University of Maryland Law School and chair of the PHH Charitable Foundation.
He served on St. Stephen’s Anglican Church’s vestry and was an Orioles and Ravens fan.
In retirement, he took delight in carpooling his granddaughters to and from school, which often included a stop for ice cream, bubble tea or Starbucks.
Survivors include his wife of 60 years, Starr Anne Beauchamp, a retired teacher, of Lutherville; two daughters, Victoria C. Arbaugh and Caroline S. Arbaugh, both of Lutherville; a son, Eugene A. Arbaugh Jr., of Lutherville; and five grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Baltimore Country Club at Five Farms.