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Rockefeller, David 1915-

ROCKEFELLER, David 1915-

PERSONAL: Born June 12, 1915, in New York, NY; son of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (a financier, businessman and philanthropist) and Abby (a philanthropist; maiden name, Aldrich) Rockefeller; married Margaret McGrath (died, 1996); children: David, Jr., Abby, Neva, Peggy, Richard, Growald. Education: Harvard University, graduated 1936; attended London School of Economics; University of Chicago, Ph.D. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting beetles.

ADDRESSES: Offıce—Rockefeller and Co., 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10012.

CAREER: Financier and philanthropist. Chase Bank, New York, NY, began as assistant manager, became chairman of the board and C.E.O., 1946-84; retired. Worked briefly for New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, 1940s. Military service: U.S. Army, 1942-46, intelligence officer, became captain; served in North Africa and France..


Creative Management in Banking ("Kinsey Foundation Lectures" series), McGraw-Hill (New York, NY), 1964.

New Roles for Multinational Banks in the Middle East, General Egyptian Book Organization (Cairo, Egypt), 1976.

Memoirs, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.

Sound recordings include Trade with the Soviet Union ("Vital History Cassettes" series), 1973, and Oil, Money, and the Arab World ("Vital History Cassettes" series), both Encyclopedia Americana, CBS News Audio Resource Library (New York, NY).

SIDELIGHTS: David Rockefeller's grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, Sr., was the founder of Standard Oil in 1870 and the man who became America's first billionaire. David is the youngest of the six children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich, whose inherited wealth enabled them to support a great many causes, particularly the arts, and to help found the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, as well as Colonial Williamsburg. Rockefeller's four brothers and one sister included Nelson, four-term governor of New York and vice president of the United States.

Rockefeller writes of his life in his autobiography, Memoirs, called "rich as a Rockefeller" by a Kirkus Reviews contributor, "that should fire up historians, pundits, and commentators: every page raises unanswered questions about a remarkable life."

The first in his family to produce a memoir, Rockefeller expands on his childhood growing up in Manhattan in the largest private home in the city. Its nine floors contained everything a family could possibly need, including a music room, squash court, and infirmary. When he delivered Thanksgiving baskets to the poor, he was assisted by a chauffeur. When he and his siblings roller-skated up Fifth Avenue, a limousine followed behind in the event they became tired. His parents came to dinner every evening dressed in black tie and formal gown. On weekends, the family retired to their 3,500-acre Pocantico estate in Westchester County, where the young Rockefeller began collecting beetles, a hobby he has enjoyed throughout his life.

Rockefeller writes that he was "devoted" to his grandfather, who he defends against charges of ruthlessness in pursuit of profit. David Shneer reviewed the book for Rocky Mountain News online, commenting that Rockefeller explains many of the family scandals, "going all the way back to the 1913 Ludlow coal mine massacre in southern Colorado. Father Rockefeller, who was forty percent owner of the mine, was called to testify at Congressional hearings on the murder of eleven women and children by the coal mines' guards. In David Rockefeller's telling, however, Father comes out as the good guy in the story for learning his lesson and working toward better labor relations."

Of his own father, Rockefeller says that he held his mother so close that the children had little access to her. "Communications with Father often took the form of chilly letters that bristled with moral admonitions and a Calvinist summons to duty," noted Kenneth Auchincloss in Newsweek. "It was not a happy childhood, and it left David with a shortage of self-confidence that he had to work to repair." Rockefeller idolized Nelson as a child, but lived in his shadow until later in life, when David took over as leader of the family. Nelson particularly lost his standing as hero when he divorced his first wife to marry Happy.

Rockefeller met his own wife, Margaret "Peggy" McGrath, at a debutante ball. His absences, first while an intelligence officer during World War II, and later as an executive with Chase, resulted in her frequent depression. They also had six children, all of whom have followed different paths.

Because of his family's influence, Rockefeller had access to world leaders and other key figures of the twentieth century. He was a force not only in the financial community of the United States but with OPEC, Latin America, China, Russia, and the Middle East. The information on more than 100,000 people is contained on cards that take up an entire room and which can be accessed electronically. He used his contacts over his thirty-five years at Chase Bank to influence business and government policy.

David Brooks wrote in the New York Times Book Review that "the nicest part of this book traces Rockefeller's emergence from solitude and self-doubt to the top of the business world, and to his position as the head of the family. . . . But there is an ugly side to Rockefeller's ascent as well. He spent his life in the club of the ruling class and was loyal to members of the club, no matter what they did. . . . Sometimes his loyalty to his fellow clubmen is endearing, but he is often coldly aloof from the horrors that his friends and contacts perpetrated outside the palace gates."

A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that Rockefeller "has been roundly criticized for the role he and Henry Kissinger played in persuading the Carter administration to allow the exiled shah of Iran into the United States, an event widely believed to have sparked the hostage crisis." In his book, however, Rockefeller claims he played no part in this decision. Library Journal's Steven J. Mayover described as "compelling" Rockefeller's account of his time in Nazi Germany during the 1930s, and concluded by calling Rockefeller's epilog, in which he discusses the attack of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, "of particular interest. . . . This very readable and thought-provoking account . . . will hold readers' interest."

Brooks remarked that Rockefeller and his peers in the Protestant Establishment "were people whose passions started at room temperature and only rarely heated up to lukewarm. . . . David Rockefeller is one such person, a Mozart of modulated tones. He is never furious, though he is occasionally 'distressed.' An event is never horrible, it is 'disagreeable.'" Brooks noted that succeeding generations of Rockefellers have produced progressives seeking change, "and the older ones had nothing to say." Brooks concluded by saying that "as this calm yet revealing memoir indicates, there will never be another person like David Rockefeller, a person who epitomized the Establishment and attracted conspiracy theories by the score. In the 1960s, a new generation came up to destroy his world, and in response, he was willing to come pretty close to the borderline of incivility."

Rockefeller never sought public office, but he served on a number of boards. As C.E.O. of Chase Bank he saw many changes, and he developed Chase Plaza, a project that revitalized downtown Manhattan. In 1948 he bought a four-story townhouse in Manhattan, and after retiring from Chase, he spent most of his time managing the family's investment firm and philanthropic bequests, and collecting beetles.



Collier, Peter, and David Horowitz, The Rockefellers:An American Dynasty, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston (New York, NY), 1976.

Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2nd edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1998.

Rockefeller, David, Memoirs, Random House (New York, NY), 1976.


Forbes, October 8, 2001, David Armstrong, review of Memoirs, p. 210.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2002, review of Memoirs, p. 1204.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Steven J. Mayover, review of Memoirs, p. 108.

Newsweek, October 21, 2002, Kenneth Auchincloss, review of Memoirs.

New York Times, October 23, 2002, Diana B. Henriques, review of Memoirs, p. B1.

New York Times Book Review, October 20, 2002, David Brooks, review of Memoirs, p. 8.

People, December 9, 2002, Galina Espinoza and Tom Duffy, review of Memoirs, p. 149.

Publishers Weekly, August 26, 2002, review of Memoirs, p. 52.


Rocky Mountain News Online, (October 24, 2002), David Shneer, review of Memoirs.*

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