This is the bleakest of Novembers for the Rockefellers. Nelson’s nomination to be Vice-President, once seemingly as inevitable as Thanksgiving, is increasingly snarled in his labyrinthine financial affairs. Now trouble is spreading to his brothers. Laurance Rockefeller is reported to have put up $60,000 for a hatchet-job biography of Arthur Goldberg to aid his brother’s gubernatorial campaign. David Rockefeller is said to have made secret political deals with Nelson. A portion of David’s private investment portfolio has been publicly disclosed. As the congressional hearings on the Vice-Presidency grind on, the Rockefellers are faced with an even more potentially embarrassing scrutiny of their vast and once-secret private fortune that is estimated to be as much as $1.3 billion.
The Rockefellers could not be blamed for wondering about an ungrateful public. Regardless of his image as a wizened robber baron, the grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Sr., gave away $550 million. (The fortune was built after his father, an itinerant snake-oil salesman known as “Big Bill Rockefeller,” moved the family to Cleveland. There the visionary John D. Sr. invested in an oil refinery in 1863—shortly after oil was first drilled in the U.S.) The shy, prohibitionist John D. Rockefeller Jr. devoted his life to philanthrophy, slightly topping his father with $552 million in gifts.
John D. Jr. ‘s six children—Abby, John D. 3rd, Laurance, Nelson, Winthrop and David—were raised in a Baptist household that leavened the luxury of life on their Pocantico Hills, N.Y. estate with a strict sense of noblesse oblige. All the sons except John went to Manhattan’s progressive Lincoln School; all went to Ivy League universities; all did military service during World War II; and all have been dutiful philanthropists.
The results of the Rockefellers’ power, influence and wealth are visible across the land. The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Rockefeller University. Rockefeller Center. Lincoln Center. The South Mall in Albany, N.Y. The University of Chicago. Colonial Williamsburg. The Virgin Islands National Park. The Grand Teton National Park. The list does not stop there.
The brothers meet formally four times a year to discuss their philanthropies—and problems. In the past, embarrassments have been rare. Winthrop, perhaps the most human of the Rockefellers, endured a celebrated $6 million divorce settlement with his first wife, the one-time Miss Lithuania, Bobo Sears. He then left New York and twice won election as governor of Arkansas. He died last year at the age of 60. Nelson’s divorce in 1961 from his wife of 31 years, the former Mary Todhunter Clark, and his remarriage to Margaretta “Happy” Murphy so shocked David and John that an estrangement developed that was not healed for several years. Now Nelson’s political ambitions threaten to bring more indignities on the proud, resolutely private Rockefellers. As David ruefully put it before Winthrop’s death, when asked if he had presidential ambitions himself, “I think two politicians may be enough for one family.”
David, the banker
David Rockefeller speaks sotto voce, through a slight smile, and people strain to hear his words. As chairman of Chase Manhattan, the nation’s third-largest bank—with 42 billion in assets and offices in 98 countries—David is the leading spokesman of the U.S. financial community and a globe-trotting moneybags to the world. He is also, at 59, the youngest of John D. Jr.’s five children, the best educated and, because of his fiscal clout, generally considered the most powerful. It was once said of David that the Presidency would be a demotion.
An admiring banker has called David “the best product that the capitalistic system has produced.” David does run his domain with the grace of a Florentine prince (although another banker said of him, “He doesn’t have the sensitivity of Laurance. He seems to function best with a computer at his side”). In his eyrie over Wall Street, paintings by Cézanne, Wyeth and Rothko line the walls. His meticulous ways and vast connections are characterized by his card file on what he describes as 70,000 personal friends. He has been at one time or another chairman of the boards of the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University’s Overseers and Rockefeller University.
At Chase Manhattan, where he is the largest single stockholder (at least 337,500 shares), employees respectfully call him “DR.” A relentless traveler, he is received like a visiting head of state. In the past year he visited Leonid Brezhnev in Russia and Chou Enlai in China.
Educated at Harvard, the London School of Economics and the University of Chicago (where he became the family’s only Ph.D.), David worked first as an unpaid secretary to New York’s Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia before joining Chase’s foreign department in 1946.
Like all the Rockefellers, David has left his mark on the landscape. He was instrumental in persuading Chase to build its 60-story world headquarters, which opened in 1961, revitalizing then-decaying Lower Manhattan. He and Nelson worked together to build New York’s 110-story twin towers called the World Trade Center. He has also financed urban renewal projects in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and Atlanta, and encouraged businessmen everywhere to promote the arts.
In 34 years of marriage, David and his wife Peggy have produced six children. Using a Huey helicopter, they shuttle between a Manhattan town-house, vacation homes in Maine and the West Indies, and the 3,000-acre family estate at Pocantico Hills, N.Y. There, the boyish-looking David is likely to indulge his lifelong passion for coleoptera—forever the acquisitor, David stores in steel cases a collection of 40,000 beetles.
Abby, the big sister
Abby Rockefeller Mauzé is the kind of person women’s liberationists are trying to save. All of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s living children have offices in the family suite at 30 Rockefeller Plaza—except Abby. When the children set up their own fund in 1940, they called it the “Rockefeller Brothers Fund”—even though Abby kicked in her share and is a trustee. The Rockefeller children are universally called “the Brothers”—even though, at 71, Abby is the senior sibling. Recently approached by an interviewer, she hurriedly backed off, protesting that “My brothers are used to the publicity. I’m not, and I don’t like it.”
She waited until she was 66 to give her first press conference on the occasion of her gift of more than $1 million for a vestpocket park in New York City. At the time, brother Laurance observed, “You know, I think Babs is beginning to enjoy this. I don’t think this is going to be her last press conference.” He was wrong. Brother John explains Abby’s lifelong reticence by pointing out, “It was five-to-one, and this was before women’s lib.”
One philanthropy in which Abby has played a spectacular role is cancer research. Charles Forbes of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center estimates that Abby has given more money to cancer research than any living person. Even at Sloan-Kettering, however, Abby tries to minimize her role, skipping board meetings in favor of personal chats on such patient-care subjects as ordering chairs for visitors and keeping food warm.
Educated at Miss Chapin’s School and the Brearley School, Abby married David M. Milton, an attorney, in 1925. After they were divorced in 1943, she married the late Irving Hotchkiss Pardee, a doctor. Her third husband was banker Jean Mauzé who died early this year.
Abby says that “all my brothers have been darling to me” and has loyally supported their enterprises—with one exception. When, as New York’s governor, brother Nelson tried to build a controversial bridge across Long Island Sound near her estate, Abby showed some spunk. Quietly, so as not to embarrass Nelson, she tunneled money to resisting environmental groups. In the end, the older sister had her way. In 1973 the governor announced that he was suspending plans for the bridge.
John 3rd, philanthropist
A Princeton story has it that when John D. Rockefeller 3rd arrived there, a local merchant took one look at his signature on a check and threw it away as an obvious forgery. Though he bears the name of the legendary family patriarch, John D. 3rd remains the least known and most contained of the Rockefeller brothers. Yet, more than any of his brothers or sister, the 68-year-old John D. has vigorously carried forward the crusading philanthropy passed on from father and grandfather.
His giving has been protean. For 20 years John, eldest of the five sons, headed the Rockefeller Foundation, which has assets of $626 million and hands out some $45 million a year. In the 1950s he directed a $140 million drive to build New York’s Lincoln Center, the largest fund-raising campaign ever undertaken, and personally gave $20 million in seed money. This year he gave his superb $10 million collection of Asian art to the Asia Society, also in New York, which he had established in 1956. He also offered to build a museum to house it.
John D.’s munificence has not bought him fame—which is fine with him. Few people recognize the tall, gaunt figure with a hawk-like profile who walks unescorted to work in Manhattan most mornings. He and Blanchette, his wife of 32 years, live quietly and rarely entertain. His better known son, Jay, former secretary of state of West Virginia and the family’s rising political star, is most often identified as “Nelson’s nephew.” Allen Wardwell, director of Asia House, explains, “Mr. Rockefeller is a very self-effacing, retiring, private individual.”
John D.—the family calls him “Johnny,” while colleagues prefer a more deferential “JDR 3rd”—has had a lifelong interest in population problems. In the 1930s he supported Margaret Sanger, the birth control pioneer, and in 1952 he established the Population Council. In 1970 he headed the presidential Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. His recommendations were denounced and ignored by President Nixon.
Recently, influenced by the campus turmoil in the late 1960s and the experiences at Stanford of his daughter Alida and her friends, Rockefeller has immersed himself in problems of young people. Last year he sounded like an anti-Establishment rebel himself in his first book, The Second American Revolution. In it he urged Americans “to reach beyond the material and concern ourselves with what makes life really worth living—and loving.”
Laurance, the conservationist
They used to say of the five Rockefeller sons that Nelson was the most practical, Winthrop the most congenial, David the most roundly developed, John the most reliable—and Laurance the shrewdest.
In his vigorous and often brilliant career, Laurance Rockefeller, 64, has combined his grandfather’s business acumen with his father’s passions for nature and philanthropy. As chairman of Rockresorts, Inc., he has built a half-dozen exotic resort hotels from sea to shining sea: from the Dorado Hotel and Golf Club in San Juan to the $15 million Mauna Kea Beach Hotel in Hawaii. He tries to blend all the resorts gracefully into their natural surroundings. “If you’re going to preserve something,” he says, “you ought to give people a chance to enjoy it.”
Laurance has also prospered as a venture capitalist. In 1938 he helped Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker finance then-struggling Eastern Airlines. A year later he invested in an experimental airplane shop that became McDonnell-Douglas Aircraft Corp. Laurance still handles the family’s risk investments. “He likes to help small guys with big brains create things,” says a New York businessman.
Laurance, who has his grandfather’s granite face and piercing eyes, is also one of the nation’s leading conservationists. Twenty-five years ago he gave the government 33,562 acres in his father’s name to create Grand Teton National Park. In 1956 his gift of 5,000 acres became the Virgin Islands National Park, causing grateful natives to call him “St. Laurance.” Since then he has added thousands more acres to the nation’s parks through the family-funded Jackson Hole Preserve, Inc. An ardent outdoorsman, Laurance has piloted a cabin cruiser with a PT-boat hull down the Hudson River from Tarrytown (near Pocantico Hills) to his Manhattan office at 30 Rockefeller Center.
After following his brother John to Princeton—where they were both voted by their classmates as “most likely to succeed” and both came in third as “most pious”—Laurance went on to what he calls “two misspent years” at Harvard Law School. He then joined the family’s office in Rockefeller Center.
Among Laurance’s other philanthropies are the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, which he helped found, and Princeton, where he is remembered for making coeducation possible by his gift of $2.4 million. He and his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1934, have three daughters and a son. He hardly knows where his restless energies will take him next. As he describes his career: “It’s almost Zen-like—finding without seeking.”