Richard Meyer Barnett, 70, who began working in the warehouse of a Washington area home furnishings business and later became its president, died of cancer Sept. 19 at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He lived in Washington.

Mr. Barnett had also been chief executive and chairman of the board of Reliable Stores Inc., which operated 21 Hub Furniture stores in the Washington-Baltimore and Tidewater, Va., areas and 34 jewelry stores.

He used his business acumen to further his philanthropic interests. Mr. Barnett served as chairman of the Aaron Straus & Lillie Straus Foundation Inc. and vice chairman of the board of directors of the National Rehabilitation Hospital.

When the hospital needed to raise funds to open a pediatric unit, Mr. Barnett responded to the appeal and contributed significantly through the Straus Foundation to the $2 million project, said Edward A. Eckenhoff, NRH's chief executive and president.

"I think he realized that many of the kids in our area, especially in D.C., who required acute rehabilitation could not receive it here," he said. The 11-bed unit, the National Center for Children's Rehabilitation, is a partnership between NRH and Children's Hospital.

Mr. Barnett, a native of Washington, graduated from Bethesda's Landon School, where he was an All-Met football player. He received a bachelor's degree from Dartmouth College in 1956, where he was in the ROTC. He then served in the Navy on a destroyer, the USS Lloyd Thomas, and was stationed in the Mediterranean.

In 1959, Mr. Barnett began working for Reliable Stores, an employee-owned business of which his father was chief executive and president. He started in the warehouse in shipping and delivery.

"On his first day, he had on white bucks and khaki pants and couldn't wait to get those shoes dirty fast enough," said his wife, Charlotte Steede Barnett of Washington.

He then worked as salesman at the Hub at Seventh and D streets in Northwest Washington. He rose in the company, becoming vice president of the furniture division in 1971 and then president in 1988. From 1990 to 1998, he served as president, chief executive and chairman of the board. He also was a director of Reliable Stores Inc. from 1966 to 1998, when he retired.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Barnett provided sales and management opportunities for women, said his wife.

Along with the Hub stores, the Columbia-based Reliable Stores also operated more than 100 other stores in the area, including three Kline Furniture stores and 11 La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries. Castleberg's and S&N Katz were among the jewelry stores the company owned, until they were sold in 1997. The other stores were sold in 1998.

Mr. Barnett, called "Captain Retail" by his business associates, served as president of the National Home Furnishings Association and the Washington Furniture Club. He was a member of the steering committee of the Washington Board of Trade's retail bureau. He also served on the board of the Landon School.

He received numerous professional and community service awards, including Brand Name Retailer of the Year in the large-store category. In 1985, he received the National Conference of Christians & Jews Brotherhood Award and in 1988 the American Jewish Committee's Human Relations Award.

His marriage to Lynn Kaufman ended in divorce.

In addition to his wife of 19 years, survivors include two children from his first marriage, Michael Barnett of Atlanta and Terry Barnett Underberg of New York City, and two grandsons.

Richard Barnett helped fund a pediatric rehabilitation unit to serve area children.