Laurance Rockefeller was an American businessman, venture capitalist, philanthropist and a prominent environmentalist. Born into the wealthy American Rockefeller family, Laurance was the third of the five sons of John Rockefeller and an heir to the massive Standard Oil fortune accumulated by his grandfather. After completing his graduation from the esteemed Princeton University with a degree in philosophy, Laurance studied law for two years from the Harvard Law School until he lost his interest in becoming a lawyer. Subsequently, he became involved in his family business and later inherited his grandfather’s chair at the New York Stock Exchange. In 1940, he became a founding trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and later served in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. After the war, he entered the field of venture capitalism and became a well-known financier, making a wide range of investments in aviation, resort hotels, electronics, transportation, nuclear equipment, communication, and computers. Hailed a pioneer in the field of venture capital, he was also a lifelong conservationist who effectively balanced his business interests with a dedication to environmental causes. In addition to being an influential figure for three decades in the American conservation movement, he was also a philanthropist who contributed generously towards the development of major healthcare facilities and educational institutions, and received many honors for his efforts.
Childhood & Early Life
Laurance Spelman Rockefeller was born on May 26, 1910, in New York, to John D. Rockefeller Jr., a successful financier, and his first wife, Abby Greene Aldrich, a New York socialite. He was the fourth of six children born into one of the wealthiest families in the country.
After receiving his early education from the progressive Lincoln School, Laurance was enrolled at the prestigious Princeton University. In 1932, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy and then studied law at the Harvard Law School for a couple of years until he chose not to become an attorney.
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In 1935, Laurance Rockefeller commenced working in the family office in Rockefeller Center, pursuing a number of prosperous careers in his lifetime. While at office, he gained business acumen and learned about various Rockefeller philanthropic activities, conservation projects and commercial interests.
Upon the death of his grandfather in 1937, Laurance inherited his seat on the New York Stock Exchange. The following year, he served as one of the founders of the Eastern Airlines, which emerged as one of the most profitable airlines after World War II.
Also a fervent environmentalist, Laurance was introduced to public service in 1939 when he was appointed a member of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC).
In 1940, he was a founding trustee of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, serving on the committee for the next 42 years. From 1958 to 1968, he served as its president and then chaired the organization between 1968 and 1980.
During the Second World War, he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy and served from 1942 to 1945, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander. Upon returning from his military service, Laurance entered into the field of venture capitalism.
Subsequently, he formed a venture capital group and invested in several young enterprises which focused on scientific and technological advancements. Over the years, through investments in diverse business ventures including aviation, electronics, lasers, data processing, instrumentation and nuclear power, Laurance became a pioneer as a venture capitalist.
He founded the resort management company called Rockresorts, Inc. and opened environmentally oriented resort hotels in Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Vermont.
Throughout his multiple business ventures, Laurance remained dedicated to his passion of environmental conservation. In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed him chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC).
In 1960, he was appointed the vice chairman of the New York State Council of Parks.
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From 1970 to 1977, he served as the president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) and continued as its commissioner until 1978.
Laurance played a key role in the establishment and expansion of several national parks including the Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont. From 1935 to 1986, he was a trustee of the New York Zoological Society, also serving as its president and chairman.
Being one of America’s leading environmentalists, Laurance Rockefeller is most known for his involvement in conservation and putting the issue of conservationism on public agenda. He served as the chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission and later founded the American Conservation Association, a private organization that invests in works of spreading awareness about environmental conservation.
Laurance Rockefeller served on several non-profit and philanthropic organizations including the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, founded in 1960. He financed the development of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, and also funded the modernization of educational institutions.
Awards & Achievements
In 1959, he was conferred the National Institute of Social Sciences' Gold Medal for his distinguished services to humanity.
In 1969, Laurance was given the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Memorial Award by the American Cancer Society.
In 1971, he was named the honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
In 1991, Laurance Rockefeller received a Congressional Gold Medal.
In 2003, Laurance became the first honorary citizen of the British Virgin Islands in recognition of his many contributions to the area.
Personal Life & Legacy
In August 1934, Laurance Rockefeller married Mary French, his childhood friend. The couple had had four children; Laura, Marion, and Lucy, and Larry.
Laurance Rockefeller died in his sleep due to pulmonary fibrosis on July 11, 2004, at his home in New York, U.S, at the age of 94. He was buried next to his wife at the Rockefeller Family Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, Westchester County, New York.