Joe L. Allbritton, who built Allbritton Communications into an influential media and station group, particularly in the Washington, D.C., market, died Wednesday. He was 87. The cause of death was not disclosed but he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000.
Allbritton Communications, run by his son, Robert, now owns eight ABC affiliates, including WJLA-TV in Arlington, Va., as well as Politico and a local cable news channel in D.C.
Politico noted that Allbritton was “a key member of a generation of Houstonians — including George H.W. Bush and LBJ aide Jack Valenti — who leveraged their Texas achievements and connections into outsize Washington careers.”
Gordon Smith, president of the National Assn. of Broadcasters, called Allbritton “a larger-than-life figure in business, in media and in philanthropy.”
Born in D-lo, Miss., Allbritton was raised in Houston and, after serving in the Navy during WWII and earning degrees from Baylor U., built a career in the banking, savings and loan and insurance industries, earning success as he turned around struggling institutions. He ventured into media in 1974, when he bought the Washington Star and other broadcast properties, and he moved with his family to D.C. the next year. That certainly boosted his profile in the nation’s capital, but four years later he was forced by the FCC to divest either the D.C-market station or the paper. He chose the paper, which he told to Time Inc. It closed several years later.
He gave the Washington station — influential in its presence before lawmakers and media elite — his own initials, Politico noted.
Allbritton was also a prolific philanthropist, including donations to the Baylor Medical School, the Allbritton Art Institute, the Oxford Scholars and the establishment of the International School of Law, which has become the George Mason Law School in Virginia.
In addition to his son, Allbritton is survived by his wife, Barbara, and two grandchildren.