A self-made millionaire who built a Washington communications empire and led the once venerable Riggs National Bank as it became embroiled in a massive money-laundering scheme involving Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
The son of a Houston sandwich-shop owner, the hard-charging Mr. Allbritton dealt in real estate, banks and mortuaries until he was drawn to the District by a new challenge: reviving an ailing afternoon newspaper in the nation’s power center.
Mr. Allbritton bought the Washington Star in 1974. He won entry into the District’s elite political circles not only as a media magnate but also because of friendships with other Texans who had made their fortunes in the capital city, including lobbyist Jack Valenti and Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworksi.
In recent years, the company Mr. Allbritton started — now run by his son, Robert — has reshaped the city’s media landscape with the launch of Politico and the short-lived Internet news venture TBD.
The elder Allbritton was perhaps best known for overseeing Riggs National Bank. Riggs was Washington’s largest independent bank and its most gilded. Since its founding in 1836, the bank had served 21 presidents and their families and had financed the Mexican-American War and the purchase of Alaska. In 1982, he spent $70 million to acquire a controlling interest in Riggs National Bank. He became chairman and chief executive.
In July 2004, PNC Financial Services Group of Pittsburgh announced it would buy Riggs, thereby doing away with an institution that had served Abraham Lincoln and Davy Crockett.
Mr. Allbritton turned over the media group Allbritton Communications to his son in the mid-1980s. Meanwhile, he remained a force in Washington philanthropy. He gave hundreds of thousands of dollars for local scholarships, helped George Mason University buy land for its law school and was a trustee of Georgetown University, the National Geographic Society and the Kennedy Center. He also endowed a $9 million art institute at Baylor.
Mr. Allbritton made his primary residence in Houston but had homes in Washington and Upperville, Va. Besides his son, of Washington, survivors include his wife of 45 years, Barbara Jean Balfanz of Houston; and two grandchildren.more » « less