The last name Rockefeller is synonymous with industry, wealth, success, philanthropy, and iconic namesake New York City landmarks. Spanning several generations, the Rockefellers are the vanguard of family dynasties, and an exemplar of how to employ wealth and privilege for the benefit of all of society. The wealth accumulated initially from Oil Pioneer John D. Rockefeller who was born poor but used his inner mind to accumulate success. Here are five famed Rockefellers that have set the bar of giving back significantly through community, philanthropy, politics, and social change.
Laura Spelman Rockefeller:
Family matriarch, Laura Spelman was a school teacher before she married John D. Rockefeller. Philanthropists, the couple donated 10 percent of their wealth to charity annually. Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia was named after her to honor her parents who were abolitionists against slavery.
“What I would like you always to do is what I try humbly to do myself, that is, never to say or to do anything which would wound the feelings or the self-respect of any human being, and to give special consideration to all who are in any way repressed.” – Abby Aldrich Rockefeller
Abby Rockefeller, the daughter of John D Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich, was a philanthropist. She served on the board of trustees for Memorial-Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Continuing the work of her mother who founded New York’s Museum of Modern Art, she was a benefactor of the gallery and of many organizations including New York Hospital, YMCA, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and the New York Zoological Society. She was president of the Greenacre Foundation that she created in 1968 to provide the state of New York with more community green open spaces and urban parks. Rockefeller, known in the family as Babs, dedicated her life to the arts, and services to benefit the public, and could not be described as a socialite.
“I profoundly feel that the art of living is the art of giving. You’re fulfilled in the moment of giving, of doing something beyond yourself.” – Laurance Rockefeller
“How we treat our land, how we build upon it, how we act towards our air and water, in the long run, will tell what kind of people we really are.” ― Laurance S. Rockefeller
John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s son Laurance Rockefeller was a pioneer in start-up company venture capitalism, eco-tourism, and a leader in conservation. He invested in the industries of aerospace, optics, computers, and aviation, and was a patron of the theatre, and advocated for many environmental causes. A presidential advisor on ecology and wilderness preservation, Rockefeller contributed to the enhancement and establishment of national parks in several states including Wyoming, California, and Hawaii. To combat urban sprawl he championed the expansion of parklands. President George H.W. Bush awarded him a Congressional Gold Medal in 1991.
In a story that made global headlines, the only son of New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michael C. Rockefeller vanished at the age of 23. Presumed dead, his body has never been recovered. High school varsity wrestler, and history and economics Harvard graduate, the young Rockefeller fresh from the army where he served as a private, went on an expedition to New Guinea. He was part of the sound crew on the documentary Dead Birds filmed on the trip. He later returned to New Guinea for an anthropological study of village tribal people and to collect art. During his adventure, his boat capsized and he disappeared. There are many theories about what happened to him, but none have ever been proven.
New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art displays the cultural artifacts Rockefeller collected in a wing named after him, and the Peabody Museum exhibited and published a catalogue of his photographs.
When Grief Calls Forth the Healing, is a 2012 memoir written by his twin Mary about coping with the loss of her brother.
Brother of Abby, Laurance, and Nelson, Winthrop Rockefeller, a decorated World War II veteran who rose in rank from private to colonel, was the governor of Arkansas from 1967 to 1971. Continuing his family’s tradition of philanthropy he funded medical clinics in impoverished communities. He made progressive political strides, most notably in prison reform and death penalty abolition.
In a move praised internationally and by civil rights leaders, Rockefeller commuted the sentences of all 15 of the prisoners slated for execution clearing death row, and appointed a committee to study each man’s case and recommend possible re-sentencing. Many believe that Rockefeller’s actions led to a case in 1972 that secured a national moratorium on the death penalty until 1976.
Of the death penalty, Rockefeller said, “I yearn to see other chief executives throughout the nation follow suit, so that as a people we may hasten the elimination of barbarism as a tool of American justice.”
Author: Tara Collum
Tara Collum lives in Toronto and grew up in Muskoka. She is the co-creator of a forthcoming web serial about twins in a small town. She believes it is never too late to be the person you are meant to be. Follow Tara on twitter @99percentsun