Obituary: David Rockefeller

David Rockefeller, grandson of the University of Chicago founder John D. Rockefeller, passed away on March 20 at the age of 101.

By Marjorie Antohi

David Rockefeller, banker and philanthropist, passed away on March 20 at the age of 101. As the grandson of University of Chicago founder John D. Rockefeller, he maintained a close relationship with the University throughout his lifetime. Rockefeller also achieved prominence through his banking exploits as head of Chase Manhattan and through his philanthropy, including significant donations to universities and art museums. 

Rockefeller began developing his relationship with the University of Chicago at a young age. He toured Egypt and the Middle East with distinguished University archaeologist James Henry Breasted at the age of 14. After completing his undergraduate studies at Harvard and studying for a year at the London School of Economics, Rockefeller earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Chicago. He served as a trustee of the University for seven decades and, after retiring from Chase Manhattan, the bank’s board endowed the David Rockefeller Distinguished Service Professor in Economics chair at the University of Chicago in his honor. This position is currently held by Nobel laureate Lars Hansen. 

In the business world, Rockefeller gained renown from his work with Chase, where he started as assistant manager in 1946 and became chairman and sole chief executive in 1969 after Chase National Bank merged with the Bank of Manhattan Company to become Chase Manhattan. Rockefeller advocated overseas expansion and bolstered Chase’s international presence. He worked with New York business leaders and city, state, and federal officials to develop an economic plan that lifted New York City out of a recession in the mid-1970s.  He was also one of the first people to recommend the construction of the World Trade Center, a project which encouraged urban renewal in New York. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon each offered Rockefeller the position of Secretary of the Treasury, both of whom he refused. 

Rockefeller was an enthusiastic traveler. Before his ventures in finance, Rockefeller served as an intelligence officer during World War II in North Africa and the south of France, achieving the rank of captain. He continued to travel to Europe late into his 90s, exhibiting a wanderlust that contributed to his commanding international presence in business. In 1973, Rockefeller also founded the Trilateral Commission, a nonpartisan group that cultivates closer cooperation between North America, Europe, and Asia, and supports the International House Association, including the International House at the University of Chicago. 

Rockefeller lived a full and high-profile life of civic work and leadership. An intellectual and philanthropic authority, he was one of the few members of the younger generations of Rockefellers to achieve such widespread prominence. Five of David Rockefeller’s children survive him while his wife, Margaret “Peggy” McGrath, and son, Richard, predeceased him.