Longtime D.C. official, John R. Tydings, helped revive the city after the 1968 riots

November 18, 2013

John R. Tydings, a booster for the District who spent 24 years as president and chief executive of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and helped revive the city in the aftermath of the 1968 riots, died Nov. 16 at his home in Potomac. He was 72.

The cause was prion disease, a degenerative brain disorder, said his daughter, Lynnly Tydings.

In the years before Washington gained home rule in 1973, the Board of Trade acted as a de facto government of the city, bypassing the appointed District leaders and taking its concerns straight to Congress. The organization was regarded as an “old boys network,” led by a senior council that almost exclusively focused on building business in downtown Washington.

The shock of the riots, following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and the advent of home rule pushed the Board of Trade in a more-civic-minded direction. Mr. Tydings, who joined the Board of Trade’s staff in 1968, became a public face of that changing board.

He was the top staff official from 1977 until his retirement from the business group in 2001.


John R. Tydings in the late 1970s. (Photo by Chase Studios)

“John was the one who brought the Board of Trade into the 20th century,” said William A. Regardie, who chronicled Washington business and politics as publisher of Regardie’s magazine. “He was the link between the Board of Trade and the rest of Washington. He could bring people together and help them see why they had to work together even if they didn’t want to.”

Through his extensive network that spanned the public and private sectors, Mr. Tydings was recognized as a critical player in expanding the Board of Trade’s focus beyond the city limits.

“I think his predecessor was almost all D.C. all the time, but John was the first to put the ‘greater’ into the Greater Washington Board of Trade,” said Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive of the business group. “John was instrumental in really making this feel like a region.”

Mr. Tydings sought collaboration with suburban business organizations to improve the region’s transportation needs. Fearing that increasing congestion into the city would inhibit economic growth, the Board of Trade funded a study in 1996 that pushed forward long-delayed projects such as the reconstruction of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge.

Mr. Tydings spearheaded efforts for larger businesses to mentor smaller shops in distressed neighborhoods. He said the program was not meant to be viewed as charity.

“This is not a do-good project, this is a do-well project,” Mr. Tydings told The Washington Post in 1997. “If businesses here do well, the city will do well, and so will the region and the [large] businesses who participate.”

John Raymond Tydings was born in Washington on Oct. 27, 1941. He was a 1959 graduate of Oxon Hill High School and a 1963 graduate of the University of Maryland.

He spent five years working in personnel at Pepco before joining the Board of Trade as manager of the economic development bureau in 1968.

After his retirement from the Board of Trade, he became a consultant with clients such as PNC Bank.

Mr. Tydings was one of the founders of Leadership Greater Washington, which connects leaders from the public, private and nonprofit worlds. He was senior vice president of HEROES, a foundation of businessmen who help the widows and children of law enforcement officers and firefighters.

Survivors include his wife of 50 years, Donna Thomas Tydings of Potomac; a son, J. Michael Tydings of Catonsville, Md.; his daughter Lynnly of Takoma Park; and four grandchildren.

Mr. Tydings spent much of his career at the center of Washington’s business elite but seldom was in the public spotlight.

“He wasn’t flashy. He didn’t dress in custom suits. He didn’t look powerful,” Regardie said. “John Tydings knew that the Board of Trade was composed of men with massive egos. He knew that he could put the coalitions together and he could lead from behind the scenes. He wanted to make Washington a better place.”