Guardian of Rock­e­feller for­tune


NEW YORK — David Rock­e­feller was the last of his gen­er­a­tion in a fa­mous Amer­i­can fam­ily that taught its chil­dren that wealth brings great re­spon­si­bil­ity. Even as chil­dren, he and his sib­lings had to set aside por­tions of their al­lowances for char­i­ta­ble giv­ing.

That les­son lasted through­out his life; to mark his 100th birth­day in 2015, Mr. Rock­e­feller gave 1,000 acres of land next to a na­tional park to the state ofMaine.

Mr. Rock­e­feller died Mon­day in his sleep at his home in Po­can­tico Hills at age 101, ac­cord­ing to his spokesman, Fraser P. Sei­tel.

He­was the grand­son of Stan­dard Oil co- founder John D. Rock­e­feller and the youngest of five sons and one daugh­ter born to John D. Rock­e­feller Jr. He was also the guardian of his fam­ily’s for­tune and head of a sprawl­ing net­work of fam­ily in­ter­ests, both busi­ness and phil­an­thropic, that ranged from en­vi­ron­men­tal con­ser­va­tion to the arts.

Un­like his broth­ers Nel­son, the gov­er­nor of New York who hun­gered for the White House and was briefly vice pres­i­dent, and Winthrop, a gov­er­nor of Arkansas, David Rock­e­feller wielded power and in­flu­ence with­out ever seek­ing pub­lic of­fice. Among his many ac­com­plish­ments were spurring the project that led to the­World Trade Cen­ter.

“No in­di­vid­ual has con­trib­uted more to the com­mer­cial and civic life of New York City over a longer pe­riod of time than David Rock­e­feller,” said Michael Bloomberg, a for­mer mayor and fel­low bil­lion­aire. “I have long ad­mired his com­mit­ment to the city, which be­gan with a dol­lar- a- year job work­ing as a sec­re­tary to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Dur­ing my time in City Hall, he was al­ways there for the city when we called.”

Un­like his other broth­ers, John D. 3rd and Lau­rance, who shied from the spot­light and were known for phi­lan­thropy, David Rock­e­feller em­braced busi­ness and trav­eled and spoke widely as a cham­pion of en­light­ened cap­i­tal­ism.

“Amer­i­can cap­i­tal­ism has brought more ben­e­fits to more peo­ple than any other sys­tem in any part of the world at any time in his­tory,” he said. “The prob­lem is to see that the sys­tem is run as ef­fi­ciently and as hon­estly as it can be.”

Mr. Rock­e­feller grad­u­ated from Har­vard in 1936 and re­ceived a doc­tor­ate in eco­nom­ics from the Univer­sity of Chicago in 1940. He served in the Army dur­ing World War II, then be­gan climb­ing the ranks of man­age­ment at Chase Bank. That bank merged with the Man­hat­tan com­pany in 1955.

He was named Chase Man­hat­tan’s pres­i­dent in 1961 and chair­man and CEO eight years later. He re­tired in 1981 at age 65 after a 35year ca­reer.

In his role of busi­ness states­man, Mr. Rock­e­feller preached cap­i­tal­ism at home and fa­vored as­sist­ing economies abroad on grounds that bring­ing pros­per­ity to the Third World would cre­ate cus­tomers for Amer­i­can prod­ucts.

He parted com­pany with some of his fel­low cap­i­tal­ists on in­come taxes, call­ing it un­seemly to earn a mil­lion and then find ways to avoid pay­ing the taxes. He didn’t say how much he paid in taxes, and he never spoke pub­licly about his per­sonal worth. In 2015, Forbes mag­a­zine es­ti­mated his for­tune at $ 3 bil­lion.

As one of the Rock­e­feller grand­chil­dren, David be­longed to the last gen­er­a­tion in which the in­her­ited fam­ily bil­lions were con­cen­trated in a few hands. The next gen­er­a­tion, known as “the cousins,” are more nu­mer­ous.

Mr. Rock­e­feller was es­ti­mated to have met more than 200 rulers in more than 100 coun­tries dur­ing his life­time and of­ten was treated as if he were a vis­it­ing head of state.

In ad­di­tion to the phi­lan­thropy that “touched and lifted in­nu­mer­able lives,” Mr. Rock­e­feller’s “con­nec­tions and keen ap­ti­tude for is­sues made him a valu­able ad­viser to pres­i­dents of both par­ties — yours truly cer­tainly in­cluded,” said for­mer Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H. W. Bush. He said Mr. Rock­e­feller was a “won­der­ful friend” to him and his wife, Bar­bara.

Un­der Mr. Rock­e­feller, Chase — now known as JPMor­gan Chase — was the first U. S. bank to open of­fices in the Soviet Union and China and, in 1974, the first to open an of­fice in Egypt after the Suez cri­sis of 1956.

In his early trav­els to South Africa, Mr. Rock­e­feller ar­ranged clan­des­tine meet­ings with sev­eral un­der­ground black lead­ers. “I find it ter­ri­bly im­por­tant to get over­all im­pres­sions beyond those I get from busi­ness­men,” he said.

But Mr. Rock­e­feller took a lot of heat for his bank’s sub­stan­tial deal­ings with South Africa’s white sep­a­ratist regime and for help­ing the de­posed, ter­mi­nally ill Shah of Iran come to New York for med­i­cal treat­ment in 1979, the move that trig­gered the 13- month U. S. em­bassy hostage cri­sis in Tehran.

Mr. Rock­e­feller main­tained the fam­ily’s pa­tron­age of the arts, in­clud­ing its long- stand­ing re­la­tion­ship with the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art, which his mother had been a fer­vent pa­tron of. His pri­vate art col­lec­tion was once val­ued at $ 500 mil­lion. The Rock­e­feller es­tate at Kykuit, over­look­ing the Hud­son River north of New York City, is the repos­i­tory of four gen­er­a­tions of fam­ily his­tory, in­clud­ing Nel­son’s art and sculp­ture col­lec­tion.

One of the ma­jor ef­forts of Mr. Rock­e­feller’s later years was di­rected at restor­ing fam­ily in­flu­ence in the land­mark Rock­e­feller Cen­ter, most of which had been sold in the 1980s to Ja­panese in­vestors. He even­tu­ally or­ga­nized an in­vestor group to buy back 45 per­cent of the prop­erty.

His phi­lan­thropy and other ac­tiv­i­ties earned him a Pres­i­den­tial Medal of Free­dom, the na­tion’s high­est civil­ian honor, in 1998.

“Through­out his life he used his fame and for­tune to do good here and abroad,” for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton and Hil­lary Clin­ton said in a state­ment. “His tremen­dous sup­port of arts and hu­man­i­ties in Amer­ica gave mil­lions of peo­ple in com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence our great her­itage of paint­ing, dance, mu­sic, and so much more.”

Mr. Rock­e­feller and his wife, the for­mer Mar­garet McGrath, were mar­ried in 1940 and had six chil­dren — David Jr., Richard, Abby, Neva, Mar­garet and Eileen. His wife, an ac­tive con­ser­va­tion­ist, died in 1996.


David Rock­e­feller, the last liv­ing grand­son of Stan­dard Oil co- founder John D. Rock­e­feller, re­ceived a doc­tor­ate in eco­nom­ics from the Univer­sity of Chicago in 1940. He served in the Army and be­came chair­man and CEO of Chase Man­hat­tan bank.

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