Richard A. Didden: Philanthropist and Banker
“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em,” wrote William Shakespeare. Such a man was Richard A. Didden, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The National Capital Bank of Washington, and Capitol Hill philanthropist, who died suddenly from complications from hepatitis on Sunday, Oct. 27 at age 65.
An Idyllic Washington Childhood
Richard Didden was born on Oct. 21, 1948, in Washington, DC. He grew up in a gregarious family in a brick house at 42nd and Warren Streets in the District's northwest quadrant. He was the fourth of five siblings.
Richard was an unassuming and unpretentious child, always thoughtful about the needs of others. One morning when the whole family was sitting down to breakfast, his elder sister Dorothee Riederer recalled, their mother asked the children who had made all the beds. It seems eight-year-old Richard had made all of them.
Riederer also recalled that once asked what he would like for his birthday meal, Richard famously retorted, “Just a tuna sandwich if it’s not too much trouble.”
Richard attended St. John's College High School in DC. He graduated from Loyola College in Baltimore, MD, in May of 1970. Along with all of his siblings, he went straight into the family business, The National Capital Bank of Washington (NCB).
The Family Business
NCB has been named twice by Weiss Ratings as among “30 Strongest Banks in America” It has also been recognized three times by U.S. Banker Magazine as one of the “Top 200 Community Banks.”
The Didden family has managed NCB since its founding in 1889. Albert Carry, Richard’s great grandfather, was an original stockholder and longtime Vice President. Carry's grandson, Richard's father, George A. Didden, Jr., the Bank's legal counsel, became President in 1943 at age 33. He was succeeded by his son, Richard's older brother, George A. Didden III in 1995.
Richard and his three brothers grew up in the family business starting as part-time tellers. After college, he joined NCB full time in the bookkeeping and proof department. In 1974, he became Assistant Cashier.
He gravitated towards banking's back office, handling settlements, the general ledger, Treasury operations, payroll and personnel. In 1990, he was promoted to Chief Administrative Officer responsible for all such operations. In the 1995, he assumed the mantle of the bank's President with the passing of his father; George III became Chairman and CEO.
After his brother George's unexpected death in 2007, Didden somewhat reluctantly assumed leadership of NCB.
“My father took over the bank at the onset of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, said R. Andrew Didden, Jr. “Assisted by an able staff and his family, he navigated a steady course. While community banks all over the country failed, our institution became stronger, producing record earnings. In fact, 2012 was the most profitable year in the bank's entire history.”
Continuing A Philanthropic Tradition
National Capital Bank is deeply woven into the fabric of Capitol Hill life. Under the leadership of George III, the bank provided significant support to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. Richard continued that work, serving on the board of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation (CHCF) for the past six years, and generously supporting its initiatives. Didden arranged for the bank to underwrite CHCF's Shakespeare at School: The George A. Didden III Memorial Project for five years. The NCB also donated $200,000 to the Hill Center to underwrite the renovation of the Lincoln Room. This was the largest single corporate donation towards the center's creation.
"Richard Didden was a gentle, generous, and caring man whose interest in our Capitol Hill community was deep. He was a valued member of the Board of the Capitol Hill Community Foundation," said Foundation President Nicky Cymrot.
“Richard maintained the amazing legacy of great civic leadership on behalf of the bank and his wonderful family,” said Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells.
“It is a tragedy for the community as well as the Didden family, because Richard was a valued member of the community and generous philanthropist,” said former Ward 6 Councilmember Sharon C. Ambrose.
Aside from continuing NCB's commitment to CHCF, Didden also continued George III's leadership role in the neighborhood's civic life by continuing NCB's strong support of the Capitol Hill Business Improvement District, which had been co-founded by George III.
“The BID family has lost a great friend and support of the BID with the passing of Richard Didden. The Didden family and the National Capital Bank has supported the BID from it’s inception and Richard continued that support. We will miss him,” said Paul L. Pascal, Esq, Chair of the Capitol Hill BID.
A Modest, Mischievous Man of Hidden Talents
While most knew Richard Didden as head of NCB, he was a man of widely, varied interests. He completed six marathons including the famous Marine Corps race. A lover of language, he labored over the daily crossword and wrote poetry.
Didden was an avid sports fan and booster of local teams. In 2011, he made a bet with friends that if the Nationals didn't win 100 games, he would tattoo their logo on his arm, his daughter Melissa Didden Hennessy fondly recalled.
“A patron of the Capitol Hill business community, he got his 'curly W' on Barracks Row,” Hennessy said. Rubbing the tattoo with Neosporin to aid its healing, he discovered that his palm was burning and peeling. “Turns out, Dad was allergic to the salve. For the next month, he walked around the bank with his injured hand in a white glove saying he was Michael Jackson,” she recalled.
Richard leads the Annual Halloween rumpus at National Capital Bank. Photo: Andrew Lightman
Didden's mischievous side was on display every Halloween. In what became an annual tradition under his leadership, he dressed up in an elaborate costume leading similarly adorned employees in a daylong romp to entertain the community's children with his antics.
“It’s tough to lose a brother and a lifelong colleague at the same time.” said brother James M. Didden. “Richard was much loved around the Bank and always avoided the air of authority and superiority that is so prevalent among executives. He was family to all of us including our employees and customers alike. That’s the way he would want to be remembered.”
Didden is survived by a daughter, Melissa Didden Henessy of American University Park; a son, R. Andrew Didden, Jr. of Bethesda; two brothers, Donald A. Didden of Kent Island and James M. Didden of Potomac; a sister, Dorothee Riederer of Rockville; and three grandchildren.
The Didden family will receive friends at St. Peter's on Capitol Hill, 313 Second St. SE, at 2 p.m. on Thurs., Nov. 7. A funeral Mass will follow at 3:30 p.m.
The family requests that donations in Richard A. Didden's memory made to the Capitol Hill Community Foundation at www.capitolhillcommunityfoundation.org.