First Citizens leader dies at age 81

Posted August 30, 2009 2:27 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2009 5:59 a.m. EDT

— Lewis Royall Holding, who guided Raleigh-based First Citizens BancShares for more than 50 years, died Saturday following a brief illness, at age 81.

Holding had retired in February as chairman of the bank's board of directors. The Smithfield native was named president and CEO at age 29 in 1959 and served until his election as chairman in 1979.

When Holding took over, First Citizens had less than $200 million in assets and 35 offices, all in eastern North Carolina. When he retired, the institution was a national financial holding company with $17 billion in assets and 412 branches in 17 states.

“Holding was the consummate banker, businessman and visionary,” said his nephew, Frank B. Holding Jr., First Citizens chairman and CEO. “His focus on integrity and skillful credit management led First Citizens to grow into one of the safest, strongest and most stable financial institutions in the nation."

A graduate of Smithfield High School, UNC-Chapel Hill and Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, Holding served in the Air Force and North Carolina National Guard. He joined First Citizens in 1953 and worked in several branches before taking a leadership role, along his brothers, Lewis and Robert Jr., after their father's death in 1957.

In 2003, Forbes Magazine recognized him Holding as the Harvard graduate with the longest tenure at a Forbes 500 company.

Holding was also noted for philanthropy and public service.

"He truly cared about associates, customers and shareholders. His commitment to philanthropy, the arts and economic development in North Carolina was extensive and often unheralded," Frank B. Holding Jr. said.

Holding founded the North Carolina Community Foundation, one of the state's largest donor-advised foundations. He served on the boards of many business organizations and for eight years on the North Carolina Banking Commission.

He was a leader in expansion of Ravenscroft School in Raleigh and the North Carolina Museum of Art. Bank officials credited Holding with bringing landmark architecture and significant artwork into his First Citizens' buildings.

"He was a remarkable man and positioned our company well for the future. With First Citizens, he left a lasting legacy," Frank B. Holding Jr. said.

Holding is survived by his wife, Carolyn Short Holding, and two daughters, Caroline Holding Sauls and husband Michael Sauls, of Raleigh; Carmen Holding Ames and husband Sheppard Kellam Ames III, of Raleigh; and two grandchildren, Sheppard Kellam Ames IV and Carolyn Royall Ames. He is also survived by his brother Frank Brown Holding and his wife Ella Ann Holding, of Smithfield, and nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. Monday at Carmen Holding Ames' home, 2220 White Oak Road, Raleigh. A private, family graveside funeral service will be held in Smithfield.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to the Lewis R. Holding Leadership Fund at the North Carolina Community Foundation, 4601 Six Forks Road, Suite 524, Raleigh, N.C., 27609, or to a charity of choice.