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John H. 'Jack' Griffin, retired CSX executive whose career spanned more than four decades, dies

John H. “Jack” Griffin, a retired CSX executive who during his 44-year career rose from being an office boy to director of the railroad’s passenger operations, died Monday in his sleep at his Oak Crest Village retirement community home in Parkville.

The former Catonsville, Westminster and Towson resident was 93.

“Jack was a motivator and a disciplinarian and he always clearly loved his work,” said William F. Howes Jr., a Jacksonville, Fla., resident and railroad historian who retired from CSX in 1988 as vice president of research and analysis.

John D. Nethken Jr., a district signal engineer, who retired from CSX in 1999, was an old friend of Mr. Griffin’s.

“Jack was well-liked on the railroad and was the kind of person who would do anything for you,” the Pasadena resident recalled. “And we were both thankful that we had the opportunity to work on the railroad. It was just great. He was a colorful figure on the railroad, and everything he did, he did with a flair.”

John Henry Griffin was born into a railroad family. His father, Robert E. Griffin, was a B&O Railroad stationary engineer, and his mother, Mary L. Griffin, was a homemaker.

A sister and two brothers also worked for the B&O, and his future wife, the former Mary E. Kelly, whom he married in 1949, also was employed by the line as a typist in its mechanical department.

He was born in Baltimore and raised in Catonsville.

After graduating from Catonsville High School, he worked briefly as a soda jerk at a local drugstore before taking a job as an office boy in the B&O’s mechanical department, which was located at company headquarters at Charles and Baltimore streets.

In 1944, he enlisted in the Navy and served as a signalman in the Pacific theater, and after being discharged in 1947, returned to the mechanical department as a file clerk, while studying shorthand and typing at night.

Mr. Griffin was then promoted to the railroad’s signal department where he served as clerk to the chief signal inspector and then was named secretary and chief clerk.

When the department was combined into the engineering department in 1961, Mr. Griffin was appointed officer manager.

“Jack brought a good sense of planning [and] organization, and he had the clerical knowledge that brought things together,” Mr. Nethken said. “He also had an outgoing personality, and people enjoyed being in his company.”

In 1968, because of its affiliation with the Central Railroad of New Jersey and the Reading Co., which gave the B&O access to New York City, Mr. Griffin was sent to Newark, N.J.

“This led to years of cross-pollination of technology and operating practices between the companies and occasionally a major infusion of B&O management,” Mr. Howes wrote in a biographical profile of Mr. Griffin.

Mr. Griffin was among more than two dozen Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad and B&O employees who were sent to help the struggling Central Railroad of New Jersey, which was in bankruptcy.

Mr. Griffin spent most of his time in the maintenance-of-way section of the CNJ’s engineering department in what was initially thought to be a six-month assignment that stretched into three years. He commuted weekly from Baltimore to his office in Newark.

Returning to Baltimore in 1971, he joined the operating department as a transportation engineer assigned to special projects.

Later that year, he joined the passenger department and two years later, succeeded John Acken as manager of passenger operations, which consisted mainly of overseeing the railroad’s commuter operations, and liaison for the Chessie System, which C&O/B&O became known as, to Amtrak, which operated intercity trains over its lines.

Mr. Griffin’s career began in the steam era, which ended on the B&O in 1958. Two decades later, he was reunited with the steam locomotive when Chessie launched its Chessie Steam Specials in 1977 that toured the system celebrating the B&O’s 150 birthday, and were powered by a former Reading Co. 4-8-4 No. 2101.

In 1981, the steam-powered Chessie Safety Express behind ex-C&O steam engine 4-8-4 No. 614, traveled throughout in support of Operation Lifesaver whose goal was to educate the public about grade-crossing accidents.

“I had overall responsibility for these projects, but it was Jack, with an assist from an able team of railroaders, contractors and volunteers who made them succeed,” Mr. Howes wrote.

“For many of the railroaders involved, including Jack, it entailed work well beyond their job descriptions and often required sacrificing their normal days off [or any days off in some cases].”

“Jack was the tough guy and disciplinarian because we were working with all kinds of people, such as contractors and volunteers,” Mr. Howes explained in a telephone interview. “I was the easy touch, but both were necessary. He cared about those guys and kid volunteers.

“It was in his character to be the tough guy when we needed it, and he knew how to snap the whip. He got people to follow the rules, work as a team, because that was his personality. He was the experienced railroader. There is no question about it, Jack put everything he could into the job, both time and effort, and I admired him for that, and he even gave up weekends for the four seasons we were touring.”

Mr. Griffin played a pivotal role in planning and executing President Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection whistle stop campaign that ran over 120 miles of the B&O between Dayton and Petersburg, Ohio.

There were many challenges, Mr. Howes noted, because the trip was being made aboard the presidential car Ferdinand Magellan, which had been constructed by the Pullman Co. in 1943 for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and used most recently in 1958.

Mr. Griffin had to grapple with a number of problems, including the restoration of the Magellan to service, tight security and operating details. Mr. Reagan, who gave five speeches during the trip, completed it without incident.

“Theknowledge of a job completed safely and successfully has been a very satisfying and memorable reward,” Mr. Howes wrote of Mr. Griffin.

Mr. Griffin retired in 1985.

In retirement, he served on the board of the Canton Railroad Co. and briefly as the railroad’s managing director. He also had been active with SOTS, a group of railroad signal and communications retirees, and RABO — Retired Administrators B&O Railroad — another retirees group, of which he was president in 1996.

He was an avid gardener and landscaper who enjoyed incorporating ponds and fish into his layouts. He was also a model railroader.

Mr. Griffin, who had lived at Oak Crest for the past seven years, was a communicant of Saint Stephen’s Anglican Church in Mays Chapel.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

In addition to his wife of 70, years, Mr. Griffin is survived by a sister, Charlotte Hilberg of Parkville, and many nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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