David Rockefeller (1915 - 2017)

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    - Anthony LaMantia
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David Rockefeller (Ron Galella / Getty)
David Rockefeller, the patriarch of the Rockefeller family and a former chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank, died Monday, March 20, 2017. He was 101.

Rockefeller was quietly one of the leading international figures of the 20th century. Both as a member of the wealthy Rockefeller family and as the chairman and chief executive of Chase Manhattan Bank, he wielded tremendous influence on the world stage. In the wake of World War II, he was a key player in the drive to integrate economics and politics into a single worldwide system.

Writing in his autobiography, "Memoirs," he addressed his critics and explained his goals as he saw them. "Populists and isolationists ignore the tangible benefits that have resulted from our active international role during the past half-century." He continued, "There have been fundamental improvements in societies around the world, particularly in the United States, as a result of global trade, improved communications, and the heightened interaction of people from different cultures."

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Born June 12, 1915, David was the youngest of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller's six children. He was raised in luxury in Midtown Manhattan. His father was a financier and philanthropist, and his mother was a socialite who helped establish the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Rockefeller fortune began with David's grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, who co-founded Standard Oil and was arguably the wealthiest American of all time.

Rockefeller was educated at Harvard University and the London School of Economics. He received his doctorate from the University of Chicago. He found employment after school in the administration of New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army after Pearl Harbor and served in North Africa and France. He served in military intelligence and was stationed at the American Embassy in Paris, as he was fluent in French and had many family and business connections useful to the Allied war effort. He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain, and he was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit and the French Legion of Honor.

Rockefeller joined Chase National Bank in 1946. He oversaw its merger with the Bank of the Manhattan Co. to become Chase Manhattan Bank in 1955. He grew the bank's international business and became the bank's president in 1960. He was named the chairman and chief executive in 1969 and held those titles until 1980. He retired as chairman in 1981. Under his leadership, Chase Manhattan became a pillar of the world banking system. Today it is known as JPMorgan Chase.

In addition to his role in private business, Rockefeller was also sought out for public service. He was an unofficial diplomat on several occasions and had dealings with several U.S. presidents, including Jimmy Carter, who at one time approached him for the cabinet position of secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. A lifelong moderate "Rockefeller Republican," he worked closely with both Republican and Democratic politicians. Though other members of the family were active in politics, including his brother Nelson, who served as a governor of New York, David Rockefeller never sought elective office. He focused, instead, on involvement in nongovernmental policy groups. He served on the board of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and he was the director of the Council on Foreign Relations, both foreign policy think tanks. He also maintained an enduring working relationship with Henry Kissinger both before, during and after his time as secretary of state.

Rockefeller met with diverse world leaders, including those who were not friendly with the U.S., such as former Cuban President Fidel Castro and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He also had relationships with former allies that eventually became enemies, like Saddam Hussein, Iraq's fifth president. He drew criticism for his role in lobbying the U.S. government to allow the former Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, to enter the U.S. for medical treatment. This was one of the events that led to the Iran hostage crisis in November 1979.

The Rockefeller family has also been notable for its focus on philanthropy. David was active alongside his brothers and sister in the establishment and management of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. The fund's stated mission is to "advance social change that contributes to a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world." In 2006, Rockefeller pledged $225 million upon his death to create the David Rockefeller Global Development Fund. Other notable gifts have included $100 million to the Museum of Modern Art and $100 million to Rockefeller University, a postgraduate university in New York City, notable for its work in biomedical research.

Rockefeller married Margaret McGrath, the daughter of a partner in a prominent Wall Street firm, Sept. 7, 1940. They had six children and remained married until her death in 1996.

He was interested in the study of insects, often carrying jars on business trips to collect beetles. He was also an avid art collector, partly the influence of his mother, and much of his collection has been donated to the Museum of Modern Art.

Rockefeller was preceded in death by his wife, Margaret. He is survived by his children, David Jr., Abigail, Neva, Margaret, Richard, and Eileen Rockefeller, as well as several grandchildren.

– Linnea Crowther
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