American billionaire philanthropist, David Rockefeller died on Monday. He was 101 years old.
A spokesman, Fraser P Seitel, said the sixth child of John D Rockefeller Jr and the grandson of Standard Oil co-founder John D Rockefeller died peacefully in his sleep on Monday morning at his home in Pocantico Hills, New York.
Rockefeller was at the head of a sprawling network of family interests, both business and philanthropic, that range from environmental conservation to the arts. He also headed what is now JP Morgan Chase bank. To mark his 100th birthday in 2015, he gave 1,000 acres of land next to a national park to Maine.
Aspects of the Rockefeller brothers’ upbringing became famous, including a 25-cent allowance, portions of which had to be set aside for charity and savings, and the inculcation that wealth brings great responsibility. Two held elected office: Nelson Rockefeller as governor of New York and, briefly, US vice-president; Winthrop Rockefeller as governor of Arkansas.
David Rockefeller never sought public office. Unlike his other brothers, John D III and Laurance, who shied from the spotlight, he 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.”
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 the second world war, then began climbing the ranks at Chase Bank, which merged with the Manhattan Company in 1955. He was named Chase Manhattan’s president in 1961 and chairman and chief executive officer eight years later. He retired in 1981 at 65.
Rockefeller favored assisting economies abroad on grounds that bringing prosperity would create customers for American products. He also spurred the project that led to the World Trade Center.
He parted company with some of his fellow capitalists on income tax, calling it unseemly to earn $1m and then find ways to avoid paying taxes on it. He didn’t say how much he paid in taxes and never spoke publicly about his personal worth. In 2015, Forbes magazine estimated his fortune at $3bn.
He was estimated to have met more than 200 rulers in more than 100 countries and often was treated as if he were a visiting head of state. Under Rockefeller, Chase was the first US 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, 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 he took a lot of heat for his bank’s substantial dealings with South Africa’s white separatist regime and for helping the deposed and terminally ill shah of Iran come to New York for treatment in 1979, the move that triggered the 13-month US embassy hostage crisis in Tehran.
Rockefeller maintained the family’s patronage of the arts, including its longstanding relationship with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His private art collection was once valued at $500m. The Rockefeller estate 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 his later years was directed at restoring family influence in the Rockefeller Center in New York, most of which was sold in the 1980s to Japanese investors. He organized an investor group to buy back 45% of the property.
He was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, in 1998.
Rockefeller and his wife, the former Margaret McGrath, married in 1940 and had six children: David Jr, Richard, Abby, Neva, Margaret and Eileen. His wife, a conservationist, died in 1996.
David Rockefeller was the last of his generation in the famous Rockefeller family