He was a banker, philanthropist and presidential advisor. David Rockefeller also was heir to one of history’s most fabled fortunes. When he died last week at 101, he was the world’s oldest billionaire.
Rockefeller was the youngest and last-surviving grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the nation’s first billionaire. According to Bloomberg, he was the only one of John D. Rockefeller Jr.’s five sons who spent his entire professional career in the corporate world, rising to chief executive officer of Chase Manhattan Bank during his 35 years at the company.
His death also closes a chapter in the family’s storied history. Known simply as “The Brothers,” David, Laurance, John, Nelson and Winthrop were renowned in the worlds of business, politics, philanthropy and the arts.
At Chase, he outlasted rivals, scandals, operational problems and board pressure to retire on schedule at age 65. Today, Chase is part of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the biggest U.S. bank by assets, after Chemical Banking Corp. acquired Chase in 1995. The combined company added J.P. Morgan & Co. five years later and Bank One Corp. in 2004.
He had joined Chase National Bank, where his uncle, Winthrop Aldrich, was chairman, in 1946 at the age of 30.
Rockefeller’s father — and before that, his grandfather — had long been the bank’s biggest individual shareholders, and the family held two board seats.
Rockefeller also forged a legacy in the New York City real estate industry, having formed the foundation for the blossoming of Lower Manhattan into the thriving market that it is today.
“He embodied the values of reverence for the Earth, stewardship of the arts, and service to humanity. He taught us to leave the world a better place than we found it through hard work, strong and diverse relationships, and generosity,” Michael Quattrone, board chair of the David Rockefeller Fund family foundation, said of his grandfather in a prepared statement.
In 1958, sensing that the Lower Manhattan business district was losing ground to midtown Manhattan, Mr. Rockefeller marshaled the support of downtown business executives and created the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association.
It turned out to be a major move in Rockefeller’s bid to rescue Lower Manhattan was bringing together players in the local business arena to establish the Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association. The formation of the group yielded the development of 45 new office properties totaling roughly 32 million square feet between 1960 and 1972.
It is a legacy in real estate and development circles that still can be felt today.
Through the D-LMA, Rockefeller’s impact can still be seen in Lower Manhattan. The association was instrumental in the development of the World Trade center, the building of Battery Park City and the creation of the 1993 Plan for Lower Manhattan, and it continues to play a large role in the restoration of the area in the post-9/11 environment.
David Rockefeller was born in 1915 in New York City, the youngest child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He graduated from Harvard University in 1936 and received a doctorate in economics from the University of Chicago in 1940. In 1946, he joined Chase National Bank, rose through the ranks and became chief executive officer in 1969. He retired in 1981.