David Rockefeller, head of the legendary philanthropic dynasty, gives BB this exclusive interview:
BB The name of Rockefeller is one of awe-inspiring legacy. Is the path of a standard bearer a lonely and onerous one or is it a privilege? What do you consider your own most important legacy to be?
DR As children, my siblings and I recognized that we belonged to an unusual, even exceptional family. For some it was a burden, for others an opportunity. I was always in the latter camp. I have always been proud of my name and the honourable traditions, particularly in supporting philanthropic institutions, that it represents.
BB Your name is indelibly linked to supporting the arts.In the face of so many inequities in the world, why and how is it important to support the arts?
DR I have been immersed in the world of art since I was a small boy. I owe much to my mother, in particular, for her patient transmission of her love of art. I feel very proud of the family’s involvement with the Museum of Modern Art from the very beginning with my mother. I think great works of art by great artists of the world, in many respects, belong to the world at large. In my own case, I feel very privileged to be a present owner, but I also feel responsible to make art works available to others. For example, I loaned a collection to MoMA years ago and have lent individual paintings to museums around the world.”
BB Your grand-father inspired and motivated others by personal example even long before he built a fortune. What would he have thought of pseudo-philanthropists of today who are motivated by social advancement alone?
DR My grandfather’s belief in philanthropy flowed from his religious training and the experiences of his own life. Grandfather was a strong individualist but he defined the term differently than others. He rejected the idea of individualism as selfishness and self-aggrandizement. Rather, he defined individualism as the freedom to achieve and the obligation to return something of value to the community that had nurtured and sustained him. I believe this was both the source and object of his philanthropy that was passed down to my father and to our family.
As to today’s philanthropists, I have worked closely with and am a great supporter of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett and the tremendous philanthropic work they are doing around the world.
BB You would be aware of the extent to which the Rockefeller name has acquired a near noun status – synonymous as it is with both wealth and philanthropy, and infused with quasi legendary potency. Is it difficult toapply a simple ethic of noblesse oblige to the complex dilemmas facing humanity today and how is the next generation of Rockefellers being equipped to deal with them in a relevant way?
DR As my children have grown older, each of them has discovered fields of special interest in which they have excelled and through which they have made contributions to the society in which we live. In many ways I think my proudest accomplishment – and one that I attribute in large part to my late wife Peggy – is these six vigorous, intelligent and committed individuals. Although we didn’t always agree on many things in the past, today they have come to embrace their heritage as strongly as I did and have used their resources to improve the world or at least try to change it for the better. I am immensely proud of each one of them.”