Frank Holding, longtime banker and Johnston County commissioner, dies at age 89

Frank B. Holding
Frank B. Holding

Frank Holding, the longtime First Citizens banker and Johnston County commissioner, died Saturday at age 89.

Holding retired as executive vice chairman of First Citizens Bank and its holding company, First Citizens BancShares Inc.

His son, Frank B. Holding Jr., is now the bank and holding company's chairman and chief executive officer.

"My father epitomized the First Citizens way of banking — he set a remarkable example for how to do business, how to treat people and how to plan for the long term," the younger Holding said in a statement.

Holding was born Dec. 7, 1928, in Smithfield, a son of Robert Powell Holding and Margaret Brown Holding. He served in the U.S. Coast Guard before joining First Citizens, the bank his family founded, in 1956. He and his brothers, Robert Jr. and Lewis, built the bank into a national franchise with more than 500 branches in 19 states. It has assets of $34 billion.

"He was an exceptional banker and a dedicated civic leader who worked diligently to give back to the community," his son said. "Whether he was engaged in banking or community affairs, he understood the importance of good judgment, upright character and high integrity. He ran his business and his life with those principles and helped to instill them in his family and most certainly in our company. He left a legacy at First Citizens that will continue to resonate well into the future."

Holding's daughter, Hope Holding Bryant, is the bank's vice chairman. “My father knew that banking is not just about dollars and cents but about people," she said in a statement from the bank. "He was an excellent judge of character. For over six decades, he built banks, achieving his plans and realizing his dreams, but most of all, he built relationships with associates, customers and people across all social and economic backgrounds."

Jimmy Lawrence is the attorney for the Johnston County Board of Education and a partner in the Smithfield law firm of Daughtry, Woodard, Lawrence, & Starling. Holding championed Johnston in his high-profile roles of banker and county commissioner, but he also did much behind the scenes, Lawrence said.

"People did not know how much he did for Johnston County, not only as a commissioner and being on boards, but by simply making a phone call or having a conservation with someone behind the scenes who could help the county or its people," Lawrence said.

"I have been privileged to know some of the finest gentlemen in our state, and outside our state, and can honestly say that he was one of the two or three finest men I have ever known," Lawrence added. "He was always concerned about any issue or problem you had, big or small, and always took time to talk about it."

Billy Wellons, a financial services representative in Smithfield, was a close friend of Holding's. The two did business together, and their families vacationed together, he said.

"He was truly a great man," Wellons said. "For me, it was a special blessing to have had him as a friend. I have never known a man that did more good for more people and asked nothing in return."

That good included serving on the boards of the N.C. Global TransPark Foundation, the N.C. Community Foundation, Golden LEAF Foundation and the N.C. State Ports Authority. In 1957, upon the death of his father, Holding was appointed to the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and served until 1994, when he lost a reelection bid.

While a banker by trade, "Holding was a farmer at heart and spent joyful hours clearing trails, burning brush and riding his favorite horse, William, on his farm in Johnston County," Holding's family noted in his obituary.

Lawrence knew the farmer side of Holding. "He knew more about Johnston County and its people than anyone I ever met and loved riding the country roads looking at farmland and telling you who lived where and who the family was," he said. "Frank was also the most unpretentious person that I have ever known. He was truly a man of the people, and in my opinion, a man for the ages."

Holding is survived by his wife, Ella Ann Lee Holding; his son, Frank Holding Jr.; four daughters, Hope Holding Bryant, Olivia Holding, Claire Holding Bristow and Carson Holding Brice; and 12 grandchildren.

The family will receive friends from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at First Citizens Bank, 409 E. Market St., Smithfield. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at Centenary United Methodist Church, 140 E. Market St., Smithfield.

The family suggests memorial contributions to the Johnston County Fund at the N.C. Community Foundation, 3737 Glenwood Ave., Suite 460, Raleigh, N.C. 27612; to Campbell University, 143 Main St., Buies Creek, N.C. 27506; or to the charity of one's choice.

Scott Bolejack: 919-829-4629, @ScottBolejack