June 23, 2014
A Rockefeller Known Not for Wealth but for His Efforts to Help
By: Joseph Berger
The New York Times
The New York Times honors the legacy of prominent philanthropist Richard Rockefeller, M.D., who passed away while piloting a small plane that crashed in New York on June 13, 2014. The article shares memories about Rockefeller’s life from his friends and family, providing perspective about Rockefeller’s varied hobbies, lifestyle, and philanthropic efforts. Rockefeller’s generous contributions toward improving the world are highlighted, including his work to provide medical care to areas of the world in need of assistance, preserve the sanctity of nature, and develop MDMA-assisted psychotherapy as a treatment for PTSD. “Mr. Rockefeller, 65, was what is commonly called a Renaissance man, a Harvard-trained family doctor who could, among other enthusiasms, play the bagpipe, take polished photographs, carve wood, and ski, hike and sail expertly. But he devoted himself to a half-dozen causes, among them healing the wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder, curing sleeping sickness in Africa and saving the seas,” explains Joseph Berger of the New York Times.
Originally appearing here.
As a late afternoon sun tinted the room in gold, the children and grandchildren of David Rockefeller, the banker and philanthropist, gathered around a long table this month for a dinner of scallops and vegetables and toasted his 99th birthday.
His son Richard might have offered the most moving tribute, his younger sister, Eileen Rockefeller Growald, recalled. He thanked his father, at the table’s other end, for being “a deeply kind person” and for “his love of family and his desire to keep our family together.”
“While an absolutely true and beautiful sentiment,” she said, “it was also a projection on my brother’s part, because my brother was a deeply kind and compassionate person.”
The next morning, June 13, Richard Rockefeller left the family estate here for Westchester County Airport to return home to Maine on one of the two small planes he piloted, a Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop, hoping to make a meeting of the board of one of his many causes, this one to conserve the rugged Maine seacoast. It was rainy and foggy with a cloud ceiling of 200 feet. The plane’s left wing struck a tree, sending the plane crashing to the ground in front of horse stables in Harrison, N.Y., and killing Mr. Rockefeller, the plane’s sole occupant, according to a preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
Mr. Rockefeller, 65, was what is commonly called a Renaissance man, a Harvard-trained family doctor who could, among other enthusiasms, play the bagpipe, take polished photographs, carve wood, and ski, hike and sail expertly. But he devoted himself to a half-dozen causes, among them healing the wounds of post-traumatic stress disorder, curing sleeping sickness in Africa and saving the seas.
“From his first consciousness, he was aware of the fourth-generation opportunities and resources he had, and he was thinking very deliberately of making use of them,” a friend, the journalist James Fallows, said.
He was, after all, a great-grandson of the man who founded Standard Oil and whose name became synonymous with vast wealth. Richard was not embarrassed to be a Rockefeller, Mr. Fallows said, but wanted to use that name effectively, not flamboyantly. At Harvard, Mr. Fallows recalled, he exhibited photographs as Richard Gilder (his middle name), because he wanted them to be judged for their own worth.
Charles Harrison, a friend from the Harvard class of 1971, wrote in a reminiscence sent out to members of the class that he may have sought to project a regular-guy image by singing in clubs around Harvard Square.
“I think he found it hard to define himself, given the huge array of possibilities he faced,” Mr. Harrison said. He added that outwardly, Mr. Rockefeller “was not especially warm or affectionate, and never exuded much confidence, yet he did seek to help others.”
Much later, when the Rockefeller name could be put to powerful use, he capitalized on it for organizations like Doctors Without Borders. But he also immersed himself hands-on by, for example, visiting Cambodia, Niger and Peru to see the everyday reality of the patients doctors were treating — but with at least a modicum of style.
“I have a nice photograph of him corking a bottle of good wine,” said Dr. Susan Shepherd, a pediatrician who traveled with him to Niger. “He was authentic and humble, but sophisticated.”
Mrs. Growald, who wrote a memoir, “Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself,” recalled how during the birthday celebration, she and Richard had talked about his latest passion: calling attention to a drug for post-traumatic stress disorder, MDMA. “When I asked Richard how is it going, he said, ‘It’s going incredibly well,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘And the strangest thing, they told me they didn’t need my help anymore. They’ve gotten the word out.’ ”
Two days before the crash, Mr. Rockefeller spoke with Tim Glidden, president of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, about how to introduce more young people to the seacoast he grew to love at his family’s island retreats near Mount Desert Island. The weekend before, he had met with David E. Shaw, the founding chairman of the Sargasso Sea Alliance, which strives to conserve the health of the Sargasso waters of the North Atlantic. With Mr. Rockefeller’s help, the organization had succeeded in March in getting representatives of the United States, Britain, Bermuda and other interested places to collaborate on protecting the Sargasso Sea.
And one month ago he met with Rachel M. Cohen, the regional executive director of Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, to discuss ways of widening philanthropic support. Mr. Rockefeller had been treated for leukemia and wanted to help others have access to lifesaving drugs.
In recent years, he also devoted himself to his father and siblings (he was married to the former Nancy King and had two children from his first marriage, Clayton and Rebecca, two stepsons and three grandchildren). They worked to draw closer to their father, who, as head of what was then Chase Manhattan Bank, had been busy, leaving his home with what Mrs. Growald called “emotional scarcity.”
But the elder Mr. Rockefeller retired from banking in 1980, and as his daughter Peggy Dulany said, “as he’s gotten older he’s gotten sweeter and sweeter, and he’s all about love and gratitude.” After the family learned of the plane crash, the elder Mr. Rockefeller, though heartsick, spoke of how moved he had been by the toast, Ms. Dulany said.
“He was happy with his children, with his marriage, grandchildren, work,” Ms. Dulany said of her brother. “He felt like a person who was fully realized.”
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