Media Entrepreneur Joe Allbritton Dies At 87

The founder of Allbritton Communications, owner of eight ABC affiliates, Washington, D.C.'s local cable news channel and Politico, got his start in banking before turning his hand to the media business in 1974.

Joe L. Allbritton, the founder of Allbritton Communications, the parent company of Washington-based ABC affiliate WJLA, News Channel 8 and Politico, died Wednesday, just 17 days shy of his 88th birthday.

A native of D’lo, Mississippi, Joe Lewis Allbritton was born Dec. 29, 1924 and raised in Houston. He served in the Navy during World War II and went on to receive both his undergraduate and law degrees from Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he was celebrated as a national champion debater.

Making his mark first in the savings and loan and then banking industries both in the U.S. and abroad, Allbritton chaired the Houston International Bank, Houston Citizens Bank and University Bankshares. He moved to Washington in 1975, where he was the chairman and largest stockholder of the Riggs National Bank.

Allbritton’s eye for businesses led him to own and operate varied businesses from insurance to real estate to funeral homes. He made his mark in the media business by purchasing the Washington Star newspaper and broadcast properties in 1974. He remained the newspaper publisher until 1978, when he sold the paper to Time Inc.

An owner of newspapers throughout the Northeast, Allbritton sought to expand the reach of his broadcast properties, which now include eight ABC Network affiliates in seven markets along with the local cable news channel in Washington. His media holdings served as the springboard for the print and Web publication Politico, founded by Allbritton’s son, Robert.

Commenting on Allbritton’s death, NAB President-CEO Gordon Smith said: “Joe Allbritton was a larger than life figure in business, in media and in philanthropy. His contributions to local television are reflected every day in the programming excellence on display at WJLA-TV in Washington and seven other Allbritton-owned ABC affiliates across America. NAB salutes a visionary media entrepreneur for a life well lived.”


Noted for his extensive philanthropy, Allbritton has given generously to hundreds of charitable causes through the Allbritton Foundation, including Baylor Medical School, the Allbritton Art Institute, the Oxford Scholars, and establishment of the International School of Law, which has become the George Mason Law School in Virginia.

Allbritton’s other passions included fine art collecting and thoroughbred racing, which was highlighted by the successes of his horse, Hansel, winner of the 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

Allbritton is survived by his wife, Barbara, and son, Robert, along with grandchildren, Alex and Katherine.

Comments (3)

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Merrill Brown says:

December 12, 2012 at 6:55 pm

The story didn’t mention that WJLA is named after him.

Dale Godfrey says:

December 12, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Joe Lewis Albritton and WJLA were mentioned in the first two paragraphs of this report. I think most people were able to connect the dots.

Warren Harmon says:

December 13, 2012 at 5:02 pm

My heart is sad. He will be missed.