Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller—“Nels” to his legions of pals and pols—was a modern day philanthropist in a bygone era of Establishment partisanship. His four brothers and one sister would become legendary pace setters in 20th Century philanthropy; yet this privileged son, with a kind and common touch, brought philanthropy to politics, dispersing public funds from Albany(!) as readily as his own.
Fresh out of Dartmouth in 1930, young Nelson quickly became immersed in the structuring and building of Rockefeller Center, the Museum of Modern Art, and the United Nations, employing his unique combination of optimism, urgency, diplomacy…and occasional arm-twisting.
On his journey to elective office, Nelson emerged as a symbol of the establishment, ever seasoned by his “everyman” style. Indeed, the Governor’s trademark greeting became a backslapping “Hiya fella!” to each and all, regardless of rank. Rockefeller’s biographer, Jonathan Knee, recalls a difficult moment during his 1968 presidential bid when a lowly but frantic aid begged Nelson to call in the support of the so-called Eastern Establishment. “You’re looking at it, buddy,” Nelson told him, “I’m all that’s left.” How true, some 50 years later!
He was a mentor, boss, and family friend, whose unselfconscious ease of giving remains a hallmark to this day.