Former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, an Allbritton friend who served on the Riggs board, said Allbritton was "a 20th century banker in that he had relationships with all of his major clients. He loved working with the ambassadorial community and being a player on the world stage." That style was not as well-suited for the changes that gripped modern banking, as community banks were getting squeezed out and federal regulators demanded greater transparency.
He was a fixture on the D.C. social circuit, though he rarely gave interviews. He was friends with Britain's Prince Charles and was reportedly invited to the wedding last year of Prince William and Kate Middleton. When Prince Charles visited the U.S. in May 2011, he traveled on a private jet lent to him by Allbritton.
He and his wife Barbara socialized with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and their wives.
Former first lady Nancy Reagan said in a statement, "Ronnie and I considered Joe and his wife, Barby, to be dear friends and I will miss his great sense of humor."
For all his Washington ties, Trachtenberg said Allbritton was a longtime Texan with a distinctive drawl whose ties to his home state were apparent "every time he opened his mouth."
"His life in Texas was separate altogether. Texas is where the Christmas cards came from," Trachtenberg said. "He was a nice man with old-fashioned good manners."
Jerry Fritz, senior vice president of Allbritton Communications, who worked for Allbritton's companies for 25 years, described him as "one of the great raconteurs."
His philanthropic efforts were extensive, including large gifts to Baylor University in Texas and George Mason University in northern Virginia. He was heavily involved in horse racing and owned the thoroughbred Hansel, which won the final two legs of the Triple Crown in 1991.
At the height of his influence "if there was something important happening in D.C, Joe Allbritton was involved, right in the center of it," Fritz said.
He was born in D'Lo, Miss., and raised in Houston. He served in the Navy during World War II and received a law degree from Baylor. He went on to run funeral- home and insurance businesses as well as to sit on various arts and university boards.
Allbritton's family said in a statement that his life "was defined by a love, wit, charm and attentiveness that will be forever cherished by all of us. Joe's life was also one of great achievement, as a businessman, innovator and philanthropist. He was fiercely passionate and unfailingly generous."