Rockefeller, John Davison, III

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(b. 21 March 1906 in New York City; d. 10 July 1978 in Mount Pleasant, New York), philanthropist, writer, industrialist, social activist, patron of the arts, and member of one of the nation's wealthiest families.

Rockefeller was the eldest son of the six children of John Davison Rockefeller, Jr., and Abby Greene Aldrich Rockefeller. His father, the son of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of the Standard Oil Company, was a philanthropist who gave more than $537 million to educational, religious, cultural, medical, and other charitable projects. His mother, a philanthropist in her own right, worked to establish charitable organizations and was on the board of many educational and cultural institutions. Rockefeller attended the Browning School in New York City and the Loomis Institute in Windsor, Connecticut. He earned his B.S. with honors in economics from Princeton University in 1929.

In December 1929 Rockefeller embarked on the career for which he had been groomed: taking on the responsibilities for his generation's philanthropic endeavors. At his father's office in New York City he immersed himself in the operations of the many institutions associated with the Rockefeller family. He took his life and job seriously. Many, including his father, felt he was "too sweet" to count for much, but Rockefeller took to heart his father's views about the caretaking of money and the obligation to serve.

During his early career he developed many of his lifelong interests. One of them was his commitment to the issues of population and birth control, which he began in 1928 with his work as a board member of the Bureau of Social Hygiene. On 11 November 1932 Rockefeller married Blanchette Ferry Hooker, and they had four children. They lived primarily in an apartment in New York City and had a second home at Fieldwood Farm in Mount Pleasant, New York. In July 1942 Rockefeller joined the U.S. Navy, serving with the rank of lieutenant commander. His principal work was on an interagency task force devoted to planning postwar policy for Japan. Released from active duty in 1945, he was appointed a cultural consultant to the diplomat John Foster Dulles during the Japanese peace treaty negotiations. This experience helped foster his deep interest in Japan and, indeed, in all of Asia. During the late 1940s he and his wife began collecting Asian art.

During his busy years of institution building in the 1950s, Rockefeller continued to develop and deepen his personal appreciation of the arts. His interest began with Asian cultural programs and was intensified during his leadership in creating the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Rockefeller revitalized the Japan Society in the early 1950s, and in 1956 he organized the Asia Society. He also helped found the Council on Economic and Cultural Affairs (renamed the Agricultural Development Council in 1963), which provides assistance to Asian farmers, as well as the Population Council, hoping it would bring the problem of overpopulation to global attention.

Rockefeller was convinced of the imperative to devote his influence and wealth to finding solutions to global as well as national problems. The 1960s saw change and expansion in his activities. His interests came together, and he showed himself a man of substance and influence. He persuaded Sherman Lee, the director of the Cleveland Museum of Art and an expert on Asian art, to help him put together a substantial collection. His understanding of Asian art began to advance under Lee's tutelage. Edgar P. Richardson helped Rockefeller develop his personal collection of American art. Rockefeller always viewed himself as the temporary custodian of the works of art he owned; eventually his collections were intended to serve the public. On his death, his major collections of Asian and American art were donated to the Asia Society in New York City and to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco respectively.

In 1963 Rockefeller established the JDR III Fund, which provided grants in four major areas: the advancement of opportunity for Asians, the qualification and preservation of Asian cultural traditions, exhibitions and performances of Asian cultural achievements in the United States, and exhibitions and performances of cultural achievements of the United States in Asia. In sum, the fund encouraged reciprocity in the traffic of ideas. Despite numerous minor initiatives toward the end of the decade, however, Rockefeller's great period of institution building was over. His concerns now turned to ensuring the success of the institutions he had already established and to continuing his leadership in his major fields of concern: the arts, population, Asian affairs, and philanthropy. At this time work in the population field took off, probably because of Rockefeller's participation. In 1970 President Richard Nixon asked him to chair the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future.

As the 1960s progressed, Rockefeller became the leading spokesman on private philanthropy. He undertook a major campaign to influence public policy on philanthropy, particularly private philanthropy, which he viewed as a "unique social force that is indispensable to the continued success of the United States." He lobbied Congress for regulatory and tax laws under which private giving could flourish. In his role as self-appointed caretaker of philanthropy, Rockefeller created the Commission on Foundations and Private Philanthropy (usually known as the Peterson Commission) and the Commission on Private Philanthropy and Public Needs (usually known as the Filer Commission).

Rockefeller began writing in the early 1970s, drawing on his extensive experience for material. In his book The Second American Revolution (1973) he was optimistic about the great potential in the civil rights and youth movements of the 1960s. He described his vision of the United States as a pluralistic democracy and emphasized the need for cooperation between public and private institutions. This book set the image for Rockefeller's involvement in planning the U.S. bicentennial celebration. As a member of the National Committee for the Bicentennial Era, he provided funding for many of the projects from the JDR III Fund.

Rockefeller made an important difference in all areas of his concern. He belonged to a wide range of organizations that addressed local, national, and international issues. These organizations include the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, the American Association of Museums, the Citizens Committee for Reorganization for the Executive Branch of the Government, the Council in Foreign Relations, the Foreign Policy Association, the Academy of Political Science of New York, the New York State Chamber of Commerce, the New York Zoological Society, the Westchester County Conservation Society, the Historical Society of the Tarrytowns (New York), the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Century Club, and the Metropolitan Club. His numerous awards highlight his many accomplishments in the areas of populations control as well as fine art, music, and education.

Rockefeller was killed in an automobile accident in Mount Pleasant on 10 July 1978. Following a memorial service at the Riverside Church in New York City, his cremated remains were buried in the Rockefeller Family Cemetery, near the family's Westchester County estate in Sleepy Hollow, New York. A quiet, dedicated, and hardworking man, he would perhaps have been happier if his accomplishments had been made anonymously. Born with the grave responsibility to use his inherited wealth wisely and for the benefit of humankind, he devoted his life to finding and implementing ways in which he could best accomplish this goal.

Rockefeller's papers are in the archives of the Rockefeller Foundation. See John Ensor Harr and Peter J. Johnson, The Rockefeller Century (1988) (Rockefeller's life up to 1952), and The Rockefeller Conscience: An American Family in Public and in Private (1991) (his life from 1952 to 1978). See also Peter Dobkin Hall, "What You See Depends on Where You Stand," Philanthropy Monthly (Nov. 1991 and Jan./Feb. 1992). Numerous articles are in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time, Newsweek, and other magazines, including Frand W. Notestein, "John D. Rockefeller 3rd: A Personal Appreciation," Population and Development Review 4, no. 3 (Sept. 1978): 501; T. Mathews and E. D. Lee, "Man of Good Works," Newsweek (24 July 1978); and "Shy Philanthropist," Time (24 July 1978). An obituary is in the New York Times (11 July 1978).

Joan Goodbody

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Rockefeller, John Davison, III

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