On the Loss of David Rockefeller, 1915–2017


Photo © Ezra Stoller/Esto.

The children of John D. Rockefeller, pictured in 1960: John D. 3rd, Winthrop, Abby, Laurance, David, and Nelson. (© Ezra Stoller/Esto)

With deep sadness, the trustees and staff of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund mourn the passing of our founder, David Rockefeller, who launched the RBF in 1940 along with his four older brothers, and devoted his remarkable life to creating a better world.

Mr. Rockefeller served as a trustee of the Fund for 40 years, and in his 2002 Memoirs, called it “the most significant joint philanthropic endeavor” of the brothers’ generation in the Rockefeller family. In 1980, he became chairman of the Fund, the last of the founding brothers to lead the organization, and then would remain as an advisory and life trustee from his retirement in 1987 until his death at age 101.

“The entire Rockefeller family mourns the passing of our Uncle David, who has guided the family as a whole and shaped our individual work in philanthropy, all the while carrying himself with a sense of humility that will endure in us and our work,” said Valerie Rockefeller, chair of the board of trustees and grandniece of Mr. Rockefeller. “His spirit and values remain central to the Fund, including a commitment to lasting relationships, an understanding of global interdependence and the importance of creativity, and a deep respect for the freedoms of every individual and the sanctity of the natural environment.”

Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, expressed that “the leadership and staff of the Fund have immense gratitude for the vision and legacy David has given us. Along with the Rockefeller family, we have been greatly blessed by David’s leadership for so many years and we reflect on his passing with profound sadness. Serving as the Fund’s first secretary at its initial meeting in December 1940, he carried the Rockefeller philanthropic tradition, begun by his father and grandfather, well into the 21st century. David has been a friend and mentor since my tenure began at the Fund sixteen years ago, and while we have lost his human presence, he remains the North Star that guides us in our efforts to help create a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world.”

Mr. Rockefeller’s guiding influence on the philanthropic efforts of his family extended beyond the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. He fostered younger leadership by founding the Rockefeller Family Fund in 1967, and the David Rockefeller Fund in 1989.

In addition to his work leading Chase Manhattan Bank, Mr. Rockefeller also leaves a legacy of engagement with education, development, and the arts in New York City and beyond, serving as chairman of institutions including The Rockefeller University, Harvard College Board of Overseers, Downtown-Lower Manhattan Association, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, and the Museum of Modern Art.