Nearly a month after his death of a heart attack, Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller remains at the center of a controversy that has blotted his memory. Embarrassing questions linger over the circumstances of the former Vice-President’s death, and the silence of his aide Megan Marshack has not helped.
Speculation might have been avoided had Rockefeller family spokesmen been more candid—or more ingenious—in reporting what happened the night he died. Instead, they blundered through a series of egregious misstatements, confusing the time and even the place of death. When it was confirmed that Rockefeller had suffered his fatal seizure at a townhouse office he owned on West 54th Street in Manhattan, he was said at first to have been in the company of his chauffeur and a security man. Paramedics, a spokesman stated, had been summoned by “an unidentified woman neighbor.”
No sooner had that little fiction been exposed than another was substituted. According to the new story, Rockefeller and Marshack, 25, had been working alone writing an art-book series and Marshack had placed the emergency call. Inevitably, the conflicting accounts encouraged the very rumors they had been intended to quell. Finally, a second woman, TV hostess Ponchitta Pierce, 36, admitted through her lawyer that she had been the one to summon help, after Marshack, in a panic, had phoned her to come to the townhouse. Apparently, nearly an hour had elapsed between the governor’s attack and the call to police. Puzzled and disturbed, even some Rockefeller relatives began asking for a full disclosure.
But Marshack wasn’t talking, though she had told an interviewer two weeks before that Rockefeller was “the most caring man and considerate boss” she had met. Clearly, she had reason to think so. Marshack reportedly was paid $60,000 a year as a Rockefeller aide—a fourfold increase from her previous job as an Associated Press Radio night editor in 1976—and had been given a $45,000 interest-free loan to buy her co-op two doors from the townhouse. The apartment had been furnished with antiques from the Rockefeller collection. In his will, Rocky generously forgave Marshack the loan.
Friends in her hometown of Sherman Oaks, Calif. remember Megan as aggressive to a fault. “She was very competitive,” says Joan McCormick, her high school journalism adviser, “a good student who wanted to be on the boys’ football team even before it was fashionable.” “Drive and ambition could be Megan’s middle names,” adds former boyfriend David Dickman. “Through bluff or bluster she always managed to be places she wasn’t really credentialed to be. She’s a talented lady too, but she pushed her way to the top in everything she did.” Once, on a date, she and Dickman drove past Television City in Hollywood. “David,” she said, “I’m going to work there some day. One day I’m going to be famous.”
After graduation from California State University, Northridge, Marshack joined AP radio in Washington and within a few months landed an interview with Vice-President Rockefeller. “She heard that he liked Oreo cookies,” recalls a former colleague, “and she came prepared with some—individually wrapped.” The Oreos paid remarkable dividends. “One day she was on the schedule for an interview,” says a former member of the Vice-President’s staff, “and shortly after that she came to work. Then one time at the end of a big office party, Megan put her arm around him, and we all just stood there stunned.
“After the ’76 election just a handful of people were offered jobs with him in New York,” Marshack’s Washington colleague continued. “No one was surprised when Megan was one of them.”