BAR HARBOR — Hundreds of family members and friends gathered at College of the Atlantic Monday to remember and celebrate David Rockefeller Sr., who died in March less than three months before his 102nd birthday. In concluding his remarks, former Sen. George Mitchell referred to the picture on the program of Rockefeller and his late wife, Peggy, sailing along the coast of Maine in the 1950s.
“The photograph captures perfectly the man, woman and place – two devoted people in a place they loved. Through their philanthropy and commitment to conservation, they helped to make this place more beautiful and more accessible.” With Rockefeller’s death, said Mitchell, “the United States lost its finest citizen.”
His legacy, said Mitchell, is something every member of his family can justifiably be proud of. Although he could have lived his life differently given the family he was born into, Rockefeller chose a life of work and service – in the military in World War II and as a banker, international business leader and philanthropist.
He treated everyone – distinguished visitors, gardeners, caretakers – with respect. And like the other speakers, Mitchell cited Rockefeller’s sincerity, modesty, decency, loyalty, honor, integrity and generous spirit of philanthropy as Rockefeller’s defining characteristics.
Through his work at Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which Peggy Rockefeller cofounded, and as president of Friends of Acadia, David MacDonald met with Rockefeller scores of times over 20 years. It was not only the settings, said MacDonald, that made the meetings special but Rockefeller’s commitment to ensuring lasting protection for land and public access.
“He set the tone for land management,” said MacDonald, “and balanced conservation of land with creating opportunities for people who live and work here. He had remarkable foresight, and his time in Maine renewed and inspired him, not just in terms of the land but the people and institutions – all of you.”
Like MacDonald, COA President Darron Collins noted the importance of Rockefeller’s philanthropy, including initial investment in two fledging institutions – College of the Atlantic and Friends of Acadia. In addition to initially supporting COA, Rockefeller donated the two Peggy Rockefeller farms to the college and endowed the David Rockefeller Family Chair in Ecosystem Management and Protection.
Collins and others noted Rockefeller’s longstanding interest in beetles, a collection that contains over 150,000 specimens. Rockefeller collected his first beetle at age 7.
His daughter Eileen Rockefeller Growald last Christmas gave her father – a man she characterized as having everything – a needlepoint pillow with a beetle on it that she had made especially for him. She saw him enjoying it when she visited him in the last months of his life.
While Growald focused on the end of Rockefeller’s life, another daughter, Neva Goodwin, recalled David Sr.’s stories about his childhood and living on the third floor of the Eyrie, the Seal Harbor home of his parents John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
Even as a child, recalled Goodwin, her father was a naturalist. Had he not been born into the Rockefeller family, said Goodwin, he might have been a scientist. A naturalist by avocation, Rockefeller, through his beetling expeditions, combined knowledge and aesthetics and connected with the world, scientists and his children.
In concluding the celebration, Rodney Eason, executive director of the Land and Garden Preserve, said Rockefeller entrusted all of us with the gift not only of loving and protecting Mount Deseret Island but with teaching others that same sense of protection – a gift, said Eason, that was passed on to Rockefeller by his parents.
In recognition of Rockefeller’s love of music, the program began with music by the DaPonte String Quartet and concluded with all singing the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.” Other musical interludes included Bill Foulke playing from Schumann’s “Scenes of Childhood” and “Ave Maria” sung by Rockefeller’s granddaughter, soprano Rebecca Lambert.