- The Washington Times - Friday, January 10, 2003

One would expect David Rockefeller to receive rather grandly, so it isn't surprising when an entourage of gentlemen-in-waiting ushers one to a plush St. Regis hotel suite to discuss his recent autobiography, "David Rockefeller: A Memoir."
A personal assistant, a private public relations consultant, a professional family historian and genealogist and a publicist from Random House do their best to keep things running smoothly as the billionaire financier and philanthropist settles in for a chat between lunch and dinner meetings with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan.
His family has long been in the spotlight, and it remains there today more than a century after his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Sr., became the world's richest man by skillfully most historians would say ruthlessly monopolizing the American oil industry under the Standard Oil banner.
Nowadays, of course, the Rockefeller fortune is hardly comparable to what has been amassed by Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or the Walton clan. Much of the family wealth has been allocated to foundations over the years, with the remainder divided among myriad trusts for four succeeding generations of heirs. Still, Mr. Rockefeller, 87, admits to being plenty rich despite major hits in the stock market. (Fortune magazine listed his net worth at $2.5 billion last fall.)
His portfolio, the retired Chase bank chairman notes with an astonishing chuckle, is "half what it was a year ago."
Unusual candor, indeed, from a scion of one of the most intensely private families in America or at least one that was until this book: a revealing tale of a fascinating life at the pinnacle of global banking, family business, quiet diplomacy and philanthropy.

Q: What made you decide to write this book?
A: There have been quite a few books written about us by others some favorable and some not and I thought the time had come for a member of the family to write one that is interesting and appropriate.

Q: Is it an attempt to set the record straight?
A: The only record straightening that would be appropriate has already been done and that was [to counter] Ida Tarbell's not very flattering account of my grandfather, which was written in 1914, a long time ago.

Q: There obviously were a lot of advantages being a Rockefeller. What were the disadvantages?
A: Whether I was conscious of it or not, I suppose people tended to treat me a little differently than they would if I'd had a different name, but it wasn't offensive or disagreeable.

Q: You were very different from most people.
A: Of course, the family had a lot of money. We were able to do things that other people couldn't: trips, places to live and so on.

Q: There was some resentment of you at Chase Manhattan, especially from a rival, George Champion, who had risen from the lower ranks, and your predecessor, John J. McCloy.
A: Champion felt he was much better grounded in banking and therefore resented the fact that someone 11 years younger than he was coming in and making changes that he didn't necessarily like. McCloy had had many important high government posts. He was probably a bit resentful that family wealth enabled me to do some things he couldn't do.

Q: How have so many Rockefellers been able to accomplish so much without madcap heiresses and drunken playboys frittering all the money away as in other rich families?
A: A great deal is attributable to wise parents who brought us up like other people and taught us principles and ideals that led us to behave hopefully in a way that was beneficial to others as well as ourselves.

Q: You write movingly of difficult experiences with your own children.
A: They were caught up in the period around the Vietnam War, when there was a lot of resentment against wealth. They were not happy with their parents, and there were lots of open discussions and disagreements, but at no time was there any estrangement. It's merely that for a period, we saw things differently.

Q: Didn't your daughters assume their mother's maiden name rather than using Rockefeller?
A: Abby, who was more rebellious, didn't change her name even though she took strong positions. My guess is that if Peggy [Dulany] were doing it again, she probably would not have changed it. There were moments where our relationships were less than good, but all that changed with the passage of time. Basically, we are a very united, happy family.

Q: Talk a bit about your brothers.
A: Laurance was the philosopher of the family, interested in the environment and the national parks system, and he was one of the first people in the country interested in venture capital. He started companies, like McDonnell Douglas, which are very well-known today.

Q. You humorously refer to John D. Rockefeller III as the clan's "parlor pink."
A: John was the liberal. He felt guilty that the family had so much and was concerned that we were taking advantage of it. He was always much more self-conscious about the name and its use than the rest of us. Winthrop left home and the family business fairly early on. He moved to Arkansas to get divorced after an unsuccessful marriage and never came back to New York. He established a different life, and a very constructive one, and became governor of the state.

Q: You idolized Nelson but ultimately were disappointed in him.
A: I was very fond of his first wife [Mary Todhunter Clark Rockefeller] and was upset at the divorce and remarriage. That did mean we were less close than we had been, but even that changed well before the end of his life. Since his death, I have kept very close to his second wife [Happy Rockefeller].

Q: Do you think his divorce ended his chance to become president?
A: There isn't any doubt it was a decisive factor.

Q. President Gerald R. Ford told you he might have been re-elected had he kept Nelson as his running mate in 1976.
A: President Ford now feels and I think rightly that had he kept [Nelson] on the ticket, he would have been re-elected.

Q: What about Donald Rumsfeld who urged Ford to dump him?
A: There was a rivalry between them, no question about that. He and Nelson saw each other as serious competitors.

Q: What do you think when you read about the dramatic collapse of giant corporations and the disgraced executives who looted them?
A: A lot of business executives took advantage of the great prosperity of the past decade to enhance their personal wealth, but it's an exaggeration to say it was anything like universal. I don't think there is any need for changing laws just because some people didn't abide by them.

Q: Do such activities affect investor confidence?
A: Just because some company managers misbehaved doesn't mean that the system has gone to pot and people shouldn't invest.

Q: You've had your share of criticism from both the political left and the right.
A: I've always felt that was a good thing. It probably meant I was right where I wanted to be in the middle [laughs].

Q: One of your critics once said you never met a dictator you didn't like.
A: That's a rather snide statement that certainly doesn't correspond with what I ever said or felt. You can't talk just to people who have the same ideas you do and whom you like. You've got to talk with everybody, including dictators.

Q: What do you think when people say the United States is only interested in the Middle East because of its oil?
A: Seventy percent of the world's oil reserves are found there. Our industries are dependent on oil, and we have a compelling reason to use Iraqi oil as well as oil from other countries. Without Iraqi oil, not enough oil is being produced today for our country to function. That's just a fact.

Q: Are you still comfortable being identified as a Republican?
A: There are a lot of Republicans whose actions I'm not very sympathetic with. I'm not a strong partisan, not a Republican come hell or high water, and I have voted for Democrats. Jay Rockefeller, my nephew, is a prominent Democratic senator, and I do support him financially, but on balance, I'm more sympathetic with the principles of the Republican Party.

Q: What about the next generation?
A: A preponderance consider themselves Democrats and vote as Democrats.

Q: And your grandchildren's generation?
A: I think some of them may be shifting back [laughs].

Q: How do you sense that the "fifth generation" will carry on the Rockefeller legacy?
A: I don't think they will in business, but I think they will in supporting important causes and activities. Many are active in the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and another organization called the Rockefeller Family Fund.

Q: It's one thing for cousins to gather, but it's extraordinary for children of cousins to know each other and get together.
A: There are 110 direct descendants of my parents. They do get together with some frequency in summer and at Christmastime. It is possible because the family estate at Pocantico Hills still exists. I happen to be the current owner of the land, but a number of them live there, and almost all of them use the playhouse, a sort of family clubhouse, which has served a wonderful purpose. It has a golf course and tennis courts, so it gives a sporting excuse to go there. In addition to going to meetings, they can do other things with one another. That has been a very powerful force, and from my perspective a good one because almost more than any other family I can think of we have kept closely together.

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