Stanley Ragone, 54, president of the troubled Virginia Electric & Power Co. since 1978, was killed yesterday when his auto ran off a road near Staunton, Va., and struck a bridge abutment. His wife died last night of injuries suffered in the crash.

Ragone, who took the helm of the Richmond-based utility company as it entered one of its most crucial periods, died about 3:05 p.m. He had been on his way to the Homestead, a resort in Hot Springs for a speaking engagement. h

Virginia State Police said Ragone's late model yellow Chrysler was west-bound on State Rte. 254, a two-lane road, when it pulled into the east-bound lane to pass another vehicle.

The left front of Ragone's car struck the abutment, which is about two feet high and 12 inches wide. He was killed almost instantly. His wife, Bertha, who was with him, was taken first to King's Daughters Hospital in Staunton, then transferred to University Hospital in Charlottesville, where she died about 10:15 p.m.

A native of Norfolk who held bachelor's and master's degrees from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Ragone joined Vepco in 1948 as an engineering assistant. He was regarded as an expert in nuclear power generation, a field in which Vepco had encountered much controversy and many setbacks.

At The Homestead, Ragone was scheduled today to address a meeting of the Conference Board, a New York-based non-profit business research organization. The topic of his speech was not immediately known.

A Vepco spokesman in Richmond said last night that there was no telling how long it would be before the company's board of directors would select a replacement for Ragone, who served as both president and chief operating officers of the utility.

When Ragone replace T. Justin Moore Jr. as president of Vepco, observers noted that the company was entering a crucial period. Rate increases and problems with nuclear generation had caused deterioration of the company's image with the public and Wall Street. The utility which traces its history to a 1787 transportation firm, was finding it increasingly expensive to get financing for the costly nuclear plants it was building.

In recent months the company has continued to experience difficulties. Only one of its four nuclear generators is now operating, in part because of problems with regulatory agencies. In March, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission voted to conduct an unprecedented staff investigation of Vepco operations.

Company officials have continued to maintain that the utility is efficient and well managed.

Known for his willingness to give a calm hearing to critics, Ragone was also a tenacious, even combative defender of his company, which supplies electric power to 1.2 million customers in a 32,000-square mile region that includes 66 of Virginia's 95 counties, and parts of North Carolina and West Virginia.

"He will be sorely missed by all of us," Vepco senior vice president William W. Berry said last night in a press conference.

Berry said Ragone "was certainly involved in the development of nuclear power in the '50s and was the leader of our going into the nuclear field."

Ragone was born May 7, 1925, and served with the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1944 to 1946. He earned his B.S. degree at VPI in 1947 and his M.S. in 1948. From 1948 to 1953, while working for Vepco, he taught physics at The College of William and Mary and for the VPI extension service in Norfolk. He was a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In 1973-74 he was president of the Virginia Academy of Sciences.

Known for an encyclopedic mind and the ability to express complex ideas in simple terms, he served as Vepco's vice president for power from 1967 to 1973, senior vice president of the power group from 1973 to 1976, and executive vice president from 1976 until becoming president two years later.

He and his wife, whom he married in 1954, had three children, Vernon George, Mitchell Floyd and Sharon.