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In Memoriam: David Rockefeller

The Board of Trustees, Alumni, Residents and staff of International House note with great sorrow the passing of our Honorary Trustee David Rockefeller. His legacy of leadership and support is deep and enduring, and his involvement and counsel will be greatly missed.

The youngest son of I-House co-founder John D. Rockefeller, Jr., he was elected to the International House Board of Trustees in 1940, but his association with I-House extends to before it was built, when his parents entertained groups of foreign students at their home on West 54th Street.

“My siblings and I often attended these events, and those personal contacts deepened our appreciation of other cultures and broadened our horizons quite considerably,” he recalled in a message to those attending the I-House 90th Anniversary Gala on June 10th, 2015.

As a Trustee, he followed in the footsteps of his mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, and brother, John D. Rockefeller III, who were elected to the I-House Board in 1925 and 1930, respectively. After a leave of absence during World War II, David Rockefeller returned to the Board in 1946 as Chairman of the Executive Committee, and committed more of his family’s resources to the House. He was named an Honorary Trustee in 1965 and succeeded the late Gerald R. Ford as Honorary Chairman in 2007.

Like his father, David Rockefeller made it clear that he expected responsible financial management in support of the House’s mission and, looking ahead, engaged a consultant from the University of Chicago to examine all aspects of the House, assess its strengths and needs, and help set goals for the future. Recommendations included expansion of the applicant pool beyond Columbia University, marketing among foreign student advisers in New York, improvements to the physical plant, raises in staff wages, and changes in accounting practices.

Mr. Rockefeller also recruited a new generation of trustees to the I-House Board, including George C. Franklin, Jr., longtime Executive Director of the Council on Foreign Relations; diplomat Ralph J. Bunche; and civic leader August Hecksher. His late wife Peggy joined the Board in 1951, and they invited I-House residents to spend weekends at their country home.

In 1947, working with New York City officials, David Rockefeller was instrumental in establishing Morningside Heights, Inc. — now the Morningside Area Alliance — with leaders of other area institutions to provide collective urban planning and development of Morningside Gardens and Grant Houses.

He led the Executive Committee under two Board Chairmen, Henry L. Stimson and George C. Marshall, and helped recruit a third, John J. McCloy, in 1953. It was a “golden age” for the House in the postwar era, with many prominent speakers and programs.

In a 1989 speech at International House, he remembered one such event from the 25th Anniversary celebrations in 1949: an evening with former First Lady and United Nations delegate Eleanor Roosevelt.

“As an early promoter of the Civil Rights Movement in this country, and as a warm human being, she evoked an extraordinary response from the student body,” he recalled.

In more recent years, David Rockefeller continued to provide significant support to International House, inviting and hosting guest speakers that have included Colin Powell and Nelson Mandela, and, in 2006, pledging $5 million toward funding of programs and financial aid for I-House Residents.

Our sympathy is extended to his entire family, including his son, David Rockefeller, Jr., past Trustee of the International House Board, his niece, Abby M. O’Neill, Honorary Trustee, and his grand-nephew, Peter M. O’Neill, who currently serves as Chair of the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees.

*Portions of this post are from “Living in the Future” (1999) by Lee Hall.