"An empty man is full of himself." -- Edward Abbey

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Remember Him?

     His birthday is coming up next Friday; he would be 103 years old. He was proud of the fact that he shared a July 8th birthday with his famous grandfather, known in the family as JDR. He also had a distinguished grandfather on his mother's side: Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich, U. S. Senator from Rhode Island from 1881 to 1911.

His home office has a rotary phone
    He was born in 1908 in Bar Harbor, Maine, attended school in New York City, then went to Dartmouth College where he graduated cum laude with a degree in economics and a Phi Beta Kappa key. He worked at Chase Manhattan Bank and Creole Petroleum, a Venezuelan oil company. He learned Spanish and developed a lifelong interest in South America.

     But his home was on a hill above the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City, an estate called Kykuit (Dutch for "hill."). Today it is a landmark where the public is welcome to tour the house and grounds. (I went last week.) One room in the house served as his office, and it is today preserved just the way it was in 1979 when he died.

     He entered public life in 1933 as a member of the Westchester County (NY) Board of Health. In 1944, President Roosevelt appointed him Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs, in an effort to encourage cooperation among the countries of North and South America.

     After the war, he established the American International Association for Economic and Social Development to disseminate technological and managerial skills to underdeveloped countries in the Americas. He established companies to stimulate local businesses, and created model farms in Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.

     In 1950 President Truman appointed him Chairman of the International Development Board, and later President Eisenhower turned to him as the first Undersecretary of Health, Education and Welfare. Eisenhower then brought him into the White House as Assistant to the President for Foreign Affairs.

     By this time he had a full education in politics, and went home to New York to become involved in state government. He worked on several committees and commissions until he entered the 1958 governor race and beat incumbent W. Averell Harriman, by the healthy margin of 55% to 45%.

     As governor he developed SUNY into the largest system of public education in the United States, expanded the state's highway system and created New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority. He supported the New York State park system, built low-income housing and outlawed racial discrimination in housing and public accommodation.

     Some of his initiatives were controversial, but he was popular enough to be reelected in 1962, 1966 and again in 1970. Perhaps his most contentious issue was crime, as he introduced strict new drug laws which were credited with slowing down organized crime, but also criticized for mandating jail time for small-time recreational users.  Then on Sept. 9, 1971, when inmates at the state penitentiary at Attica rioted, the governor ordered the police to take back the prison by force, at a cost of 39 lives.

     The governor was considered a liberal Republican, and he even gave his name to a particular branch of the Republican party -- "Rockefeller Republicans" who were culturally liberal, supported reasonable regulation of business and the environment, but who also believed in competitive capitalism and rejected socialism and the redistribution of income.

     After winning in New York, Nelson Rockefeller ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for President, losing out to Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Richard Nixon in 1968. Rockefeller did make it to Washington in 1974, after Richard Nixon resigned, when he was nominated by Gerald Ford to be vice president. He served to the end of Ford's term in 1976 -- choosing not to join Ford's bid for reelection. (His place was taken by Sen. Robert Dole and, of course, they lost to Jimmy Carter.)

     Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller had five children with first wife, including son Michael who disappeared while on a trip to New Guinea in 1961. Rockefeller divorced his first wife, and married Margaretta "Happy" Murphy in 1963. The couple had two children.

Nelson A. Rockefeller
     In Jan. 1979, Rockefeller died of a heart attack at the age of 70, in his office at New York's Rockefeller Center. At least that's how it was first reported. But he actually died in another office, in the presence of one of his aides, 25-year-old Megan Marshack. Rumors of a relationship between the two were never proved, but apparently never officially denied.

     Rockefeller's nephew Jay Rockefeller -- the son of Nelson's older brother John D. Rockefeller III -- is a Democrat and has served as Senator from West Virginia since 1984. JDR, who shares Nelson's birthday, was of course the original John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil, purported to be the richest American who ever lived.


gabbygeezer said...

Most seem to have forgotten about Rockefeller Republicans, but I once was one. The concise definition here is accurate. Unfortunately, it seems today there are no chairs for progressive Republicans at the tea party.

schmidleysscribblins.wordpress.com said...

I liked Nelson very much. Yes, those Rockefeller Republicans were special. Dianne

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Too bad the Rockefeller Republicans seem to have disappeared. I wish they were a presence today to offset the lunatic fringe that seems to be hijacking the Republican party and to bring more bipartisan action in Congress at such a critical time in our history.

Meryl Baer said...

Growing up in New York I remember Rockefeller and the beginnings of SUNY. I also remember the hoopla over his death. Just a reminder that, when it comes to politicians and scandals, nothing changes...

Robert the Skeptic said...

Makes you wonder if Rockefeller would still want to associate with TODAY's Republican party.

Kay Dennison said...

I think Nelson is crying in heaven that no one from his party today is going to be joining him. He was a good man.