Even though he already has $218 million and everything but the partridge in a pear tree, Nelson Rockefeller looks forward to celebrating the great present of his life this Christmas. After enduring an ordeal that whipsawed him from exhilaration to gloom, the 66-year-old Rockefeller is preparing to move to Washington as the nation’s 41st Vice-President—and to hit Pennsylvania Avenue running.
Officially, at least, he and his wife, Happy, plan to be the first occupants of the vice-presidential residence on the grounds of the Naval Observatory—but they have no intention of unloading the 17-acre estate on Washington’s Foxhall Road that Rocky bought 30 years ago as a greenhorn administrator under FDR. They will also keep their commodious New York apartment and will commute from there until their children—Nelson Jr., 10, and Mark, 7—finish the school year.
Rockefeller’s reach for the Vice-Presidency meant a trial by fire. A year ago he had voluntarily stepped down as four-term governor of New York to begin an unannounced campaign for the 1976 presidential nomination—only to see Gerald Ford astonishingly vault into Richard Nixon’s vacated office. When Ford nominated Rockefeller for the Vice-Presidency, that ambition too seemed threatened as an aroused Congress began probing such matters as Rockefeller’s astounding gifts and loans of more than $2 million to friends, and his part in a hatchetjob campaign biography of gubernatorial opponent Arthur Goldberg.
During the prolonged, sometimes bitter confirmation hearings, Rocky kept up his characteristically breezy front until Happy, in just over a month, underwent two mastectomies. Bravely, she said, “Things like this draw families closer.” And as his congressional purgatory ended, the ever-enthusiastic Rockefeller could even find a lesson in it too. “By golly,” he told friends, “the 25th Amendment works!”