Stuart T. Saunders, who presided over both the birth and the demise of the Penn Central Railroad, once America's largest, has died after a long illness. He was 77.
Saunders collapsed at his home and was taken to a hospital where he died, said Vernon Spratley III, his son-in-law. Death was attributed to heart failure.
Saunders was named head of the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1964 and guided it through its merger with the New York Central to form the Penn Central Transportation Co. At the time, it was the biggest consolidation in U.S. corporate history.
Saunders was chairman and chief executive officer of the Penn Central until June 8, 1970, when he resigned under pressure at the age of 60. Two weeks later, the company filed for reorganization under bankruptcy laws.
Saunders stayed in Philadelphia and practiced law for two years after Penn Central's failure. In October, 1972, he became a consultant for Wheat, First Securities in Richmond.
Saunders was raised in Bedford, Va., within sight of the Norfolk & Western Railway and at age 48 he became the youngest president ever of that line.
He had graduated from Roanoke College in 1930 and worked for a year before enrolling in Harvard Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1934.
He practiced law in Washington before joining the legal department of the Norfolk & Western as assistant general solicitor in 1939. As president of Norfolk & Western from 1958 to 1963, he arranged the 1959 consolidation with the Virginian Railway. He also initiated the merger, completed in 1964, of the Norfolk & Western, Wabash and Nickel Plate railroads.
Saunders was on the board of 30 corporations, including USX, Georgia Pacific, Chase Manhattan Bank, Equitable Life and Dominion Bank. He was on the cover of Time magazine in October, 1968, after convincing the Justice Department, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the U.S. Supreme Court that the Pennsylvania and New York Central merger was in the nation's best interests.