In Memoriam: The RBF Honors Colin G. Campbell (1935-2024)

Colin Campbell steered the Rockefeller Brothers Fund with signature warmth and patience during a period of extraordinary growth from 1988 to 2000. He passed away at home surrounded by family on June 21, 2024, from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Colin was a transformative leader of the RBF, working with fourth-generation Rockefeller family members as they assumed leadership of the foundation. An articulate proponent of collaboration, he built partnerships with other foundations and institutions with foresight and imagination. He partnered with the Rockefeller family and the National Trust for Historic Preservation to open The Pocantico Center, a conference space for Fund grantees and other social change leaders, on the family’s former estate in the Hudson Valley in 1994. In the three decades since, Pocantico has become a signature of the Fund’s holistic approach to advancing social change, hosting some of the most influential leaders, thinkers, and creative minds.

“It’s an honor for us to continue to realize Colin’s vision,” said Judy Clark, executive director of the Pocantico Center.

In 1999, Colin successfully negotiated the merger of the RBF and the Charles E. Culpeper Foundation, a highly unusual arrangement in the field of philanthropy that significantly increased the RBF endowment and established the basis for an enduring commitment to the arts in New York City.

Colin promoted lively and productive dialogue across the institution, guiding with energy, caring, and a gentle sense of humor. He oversaw an expansion of grantmaking in support of civil society and led the pathbreaking Global Interdependence Initiative, one of the first efforts to illuminate the ways in which the world’s nations, peoples, and ecosystems are inextricably linked.

“Colin knew that philanthropy’s greatest asset is its independence and ability to take risks to test new ideas,” said Stephen Heintz, current president of the RBF. “Over the course of our 40-year friendship, I have often been struck by my enormous luck to know him and the humble privilege it has been to succeed him as RBF president.”

Before joining the RBF, Colin served as president of Wesleyan University. His legendary patience and genuine engagement with students guided the university through both financial struggle and the social tumult of the 1970s. After leaving the Fund, he became president and chief executive of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, where he expanded on the historic site restoration initiated by John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and established Colonial Williamsburg as a center for history, citizenship, and democracy.

A constant throughout Colin’s life was his devotion to and celebration of family. He was married for 65 years to Nancy Nash Campbell, a preservationist and former board chair of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Colin’s eldest daughter, Betsy Campbell, inherited his philanthropic spirit and inclusive approach, joining the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in 2007 after a successful career at Save the Children and Ford Foundation; she continues in his footsteps at the Fund today as Executive Vice President for Programs and Communications. In addition, Colin’s survivors include his three other children, Jennifer Celata, Colin Campbell, and Blair Campbell, as well as a son- and daughter-in-law and eight grandchildren.