William W. Gullett, who served in the early 1970s as the first elected Prince George’s County executive after voters adopted a charter form of government to replace a system of commissioners, died Sept. 24 at a hospital in Gloversville, N.Y. He was 92.
The cause was cardiorespiratory arrest, said his son, T. Christopher Gullett.
A Republican and former three-term mayor of College Park, Md., Mr. Gullett ran for county executive in 1970 at a time when Democrats had a 2-to-1 advantage in the county.
But a crowded Democratic field — including Steny H. Hoyer, then a Maryland state senator and now U.S. House minority whip, — worked to Mr. Gullett’s advantage. He pulled off an upset over the long-entrenched Democratic power structure, in part with help from anti-development interests.
Early on, Mr. Gullett fashioned himself as the “no-nonsense” reformer testing the limits of new executive power in Prince George’s. He had Midwestern roots and a serious mien. One of his more shocking expletives was “Oh, dear,” according to a Washington Post account at the time.
His governing style was sturdy, if a bit colorless, focused on the mechanics of government. His political opponents on the Democratic-controlled county council often criticized his initiatives, which included an unsuccessful effort to bring greater county control over water and sewage as well as parks and planning. Those responsibilities fell under two powerful bicounty agencies.
Mr. Gullett’s tenure included the launching of the Capital Centre in Landover — a major venue that opened in 1973 to host professional sports teams and entertainment. The arena was often considered a coup for real estate and sports mogul Abe Pollin, but environmentalists vehemently objected to its impact on the surrounding area.
After one term, he was defeated for reelection by Winfield M. Kelly Jr., a Democrat who had been county council chairman.
William Waitman Gullett was born in Springfield, Ill., on Oct. 11, 1922. During World War II, he was an Army Air Forces pilot stationed in England. He flew B-17 bombing runs over Germany and participated in the firebombing of Dresden.
He graduated in 1948 from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, then settled in Prince George’s.
He rose to become manager of metallurgical projects at Diamond Shamrock Corp., a chemical company, and president of Chicago Development Corp., a metallurgical research firm in Riverdale, Md.
Mr. Gullett’s interest in zoning matters affecting his home in College Park spurred his initial involvement in community affairs. In 1961, he was elected to the city council in College Park. He was elected mayor two years later and served until 1969.
After losing reelection as county executive, he went to work forfederal agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, and for the engineering firm Dynalectron.
In 1979, he served in the administration of the second Republican county executive in Prince George’s, Lawrence J. Hogan Sr., as director of licenses and permits.
From 1982 to 1985, Mr. Gullett returned to USAID as assistant director for management of its mission to Haiti. He divided his time between homes in Hope, N.Y., and Vero Beach, Fla.
His first marriage, to Helen Hammons, ended in divorce. His second wife, Doris Wilson-Gullett, who was his administrative assistant when he was county executive, died in 1991. His third wife, Barbara Yurica, died in April after 20 years of marriage.
In 1969, Mr. Gullett’s oldest son, William W. Gullett Jr., a Prince George’s County police officer, was fatally shot while on duty.
Survivors include three children from his first marriage, T. Christopher Gullett of Las Vegas, Nicole Tubaugh of Vero Beach and Michele Ratleph of Manchester, Tenn.; two stepchildren, Robin Waldron of Vero Beach and Nancy Mackey of St. Cloud, Fla.; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.