LIVES| Nelson A. Rockefeller, 1908-1979

Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller, 41st Vice President of the United States and the 49th Governor of New York, has been on mind for a number of reasons these last few weeks.

The governor has been referred to through the character of Henry Francis on “Mad Men.” In Episode 309, “Wee Small Hours,” Betty Draper frowns over a Times headline that indicates a Goldwater surge.

This summer’s visceral screams from the nation’s right also have reminded me of Rockefeller’s speech, in which he rejected tactics still at play today, at the 1964 Republican National Convention in San Francisco:

Of course, Rockefeller, representing the liberal wing of his party, lost the nomination to Barry Goldwater. Lyndon Johnson trounced the Arizona senator in the general election.

Rockefeller was first elected governor in 1958, beating Democrat W. Averell Harriman, father of Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, by more than 600,000 votes. Among the notable moments of his administration — he was reelected three times, in 1962, 1966 and 1970 — were his efforts on conservation. Despite controversy that lingers nearly forty years on, his Adirondack Park Agency Act of 1971 has been key in the preservation of that region. He thwarted Bob Moses’ plan to construct a third Long Island Sound bridge from Rye to Oyster Bay. On the downside, the creation of Rockefeller Plaza, which George Lucas might have dreamed up as a set for Star Wars, decimated a huge swathe of downtown Albany, an injury that city is still recovering from. And, of course, the state continues to struggle with the governor’s aggressive sentencing laws for drug users.

Born July 8, 1908 in Bar Harbor, Maine, Rockefeller was the John Davison Rockefeller Jr.and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. Nelson was graduated from Dartmouth in 1930 and, after graduating, took up work in various Rockefeller interests, including the construction of Rockefeller Center in New York. While serving as president of the Museum of Modern Art from 1939 to 1958, he took a number of roles in the Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations, taking particular interest in the economic and political development of South America.

In 1962, he divorced his wife of 32 years, Mary, to marry Margaretta “Happy” Murphy, which is alluded to on an episode of “Mad Men.” They married on May 4, 1963 in Pocantico Hills, where Rockefeller’s estate, Kykuit, is open to the public today as a museum. Mrs. F. and I plan to get over there before its fall season ends in a couple of weeks.

Rockefeller was nominated to serve Vice President of the United States by President Gerald Ford on August 20, 1974. He was the first vice president to reside at the Naval Observatory and donated a great deal of furniture and art to that home.


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  1. [...] The estate, owned by New York’s first family since 1893, is a sprawling compound that sits high above the Hudson and the villages of Sleepy Hollow and Tarrytown. Its apex is a forty-room classical revival manor house that was home first to John D. Rockefeller Sr. and subsequently by his son, John D. Rockefeller Jr., and his grandson, Nelson A. Rockefeller, storied governor of New York and the 41st vice president of the United States… [...]

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