W. Graham Claytor, Jr.

 

W. Graham Claytor, Jr. was born in 1912 in Roanoke, Virginia, and attended the University of Virginia as a mathematics and physics major. After graduation, he attended Harvard Law School, worked as a Supreme Court clerk, and practised the law in Washington, DC. In 1940, he entered the navy and saw action in the Pacific theatre before earning an honourable discharge in 1947 and resuming his legal work. In 1963, he took up the post of vice-president for law at the Southern Railway, splitting his time between the railroad company and his law practice, but four years later, when he succeeded William Brosnan as president of the Southern, he gave up his outside legal work.

 

Brosnan represented a difficult act to follow, but W. Graham Claytor, Jr., met the challenge of stepping into Brosnan’s shoes. He maintained the Southern’s position as the most profitable company in the industry by recognizing the growth potential of the area it served, bounded by St. Louis, New Orleans, Jacksonville, Florida, and Washington, DC. Claytor introduced management teams to generate innovation and improve operational efficiency. His tenure was characterized by a clear focus on the core business of transporting heavy commodities rather than the then-fashionable desire to diversify. Instead of investing in non-transportation industries, Claytor concentrated on the business of railroading that he felt his employees knew best. 

Claytor sought to revise the relationship between government and the railroads. He suggested that competition would be served by allowing railroads to purchase businesses in other modes of transportation, a move prohibited by federal regulations. While accepting the principle of government regulation, Claytor called for a quid pro quo in the form of government investment in railroad infrastructure at a level comparable to federal expenditures on roads and waterways. He also proposed a federal loan program to assist bankrupt lines and subsidies to loss-making runs mandated by the government.

In 1977, his term as president of the Southern ended when he accepted appointment to President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet as Secretary of the Navy. He also served as acting secretary of transportation and deputy secretary of defence before retiring in 1981. He retained his connections with the railroad industry as a director of the Florida East Coast and of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac railroads. He also remained active in the Association of American Railroads, serving that trade group as a director.

Claytor’s greatest challenge, and perhaps his most impressive work, lay ahead of him, however. In 1982 he returned to railroading full time when he accepted appointment as the president of the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak). With his political connections, his legal acumen, and his knowledge of and commitment to railroading, Claytor worked doggedly to preserve Amtrak from politicians who wanted to dismantle it. Its revenues doubled and its future secure from immediate threat, Claytor retired in 1993. He died in 1994 but is commemorated today by the W. Graham Claytor Award for Distinguished Service to Passenger Transportation.

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