David Rockefeller, Friend of Greece


Christopher Xenopoulos Janus

David Rockefeller, who has been a good friend of Greece, especially supporting Greece's position on Cyprus, has just published his Memoirs, the first Rockefeller to publish an autobiography.

His Memoirs is the story of a life of social and political causes infused with accounts of David Rockefeller's dealings with world leaders such as Zhou Enlai, Mikhail Gorbachev, Anwar Sharon and General Augusto Pinochet. He has known every United States president since Dwight Eisenhower, at times serving as an unofficial emissary on high level business.

I'm pleased to review his Memoirs, an excellent work, because it has also been my pleasure to have known David Rockefeller since we were classmates at Harvard, Class of '36, and we worked together on the Harvard Crimson, Harvard independent daily newspaper.

While a student at Harvard, David suffered from dyslexia and he described himself as "socially awkward" which he was, but he had a fine sense of humor and always took himself lightly.

I remember an occasion when we needed a little extra money for a project at the Crimson, and I went to David for a contribution. He said, "Okay, but who do you think I am, a Vanderbilt."

I also remember David as a really fine entomologist. He has a great interest in collecting, of all things, beetles, and he mentions this in his visit in 1938 to Greece and Mount Athos.

Following is his story of his visit to Greece. It's an example of how personal and charming his writing is throughout his Memoirs.

"We flew to Athens where we rented a car and drove through the Peloponnesus to Sparta and Mount Parnassus and then back along the Gulf of Corinth to Delphi. While having a drink at a bar of the Grand Bretagme Hotel in Athens, I ran into Professor Kirsopp Lake, who was famous for his popular course on the Bible at Harvard. He asked me to go with him, his wife and step daughter, Silvia Neu, to Selonika by overnight boat. From there he and I would take a smaller boat to the peninsula of Mount Athos, where he would be looking for manuscripts in the libraries in orthodox monasteries. The investigation was too tempting to turn down.

"Silvia Neu turned out to be a very agreeable companion on the boat trip, and the three days on Mount Athos were unforgettable. We stayed each night at a different monastery as the guests of the monks, many of whom Professor Lake knew from earlier trips. The monasteries, built during the Middle Ages, are perched on the slopes of Mount Athos, with the incredibly blue Aegean spread out below. At night the stillness was broken by the hauntingly beautiful chanting of the monks, and the air was thick with incense. To my disappointment, because I found Silvia quite appealing, the monasteries were exclusively male; females-human, animal, or otherwise-were strictly forbidden. As an entomologist, however, I was amused to discover a couple of copulating beetles."

His Memoirs is the inside story of the Rockefeller family. Grandfather John D. Rockefeller's influence shaped the family for generations to come. David Rockefeller's parents were polar opposites; Father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., was a complicated man, emotionally distant from his children while struggling with his feelings of inadequacy and bouts of depression that nearly cost him his inheritance.  Mother, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, was gregarious, spontaneous, extremely social and a collector whose passion for art led to the creation of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She oversaw the day-to-day life of her six children in what was once New York City's largest private residence. Both infused their children with a sense of social responsibility, moral duty and philanthropy, and a love of art.

Throughout his life, David Rockefeller has been passionately interested in the welfare of the world around him, particularly in the city of New York. His involvement with Rockefeller Center, the Rockefeller University, the redevelopment of the Wall Street area and the building of the World Trade Center, and many other projects is revealed in these memoirs.

It's almost inconceivable that one man's life could encompass so many things. But David Rockefeller's life has, and he tells the world about it in this candid and highly informative book.

As a financier, a philanthropist, and the ultimate ambassador without portfolio, David Rockefeller, scion of one of history's most fabled families, has experienced a life that is unique in every aspect. Following is what David Rockefeller says about his grandfather, John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Rockefeller dynasty.

"Grandfather was a deeply religious man, but he never judged or condemned other who did not share his beliefs. As a teetotaler his entire life, Grandfather was a rarity at Standard, where most of his closest associates were anything but pious men. Grandfather wore the commandments of his religion with ease and even joy. He was the least dour man I have ever known; he was constantly smiling, joking and telling shaggy dog stories. Often at dinner he would start to sing softly one of his favorite hymns. He ate very slowly, chewing every bite very thoroughly, because he thought this is an important aid to digestion. He said one should even chew milk, which he did!"

He writes about September 11th, 2001: "I watched from the window of my office on the fifty-sixth floor of the General Electric Building as two plumes of smoke billowed black upward from the World Trade Center. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, like all New Yorkers and Americans, I struggled with the incredible dimensions of the disaster and tried to comprehend its causes. It was only with time I began to understand the connection between the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the failure over a period of almost fifty years to resolve the dilemma of the Middle East. We New Yorkers are resolute people, and we Americans are optimistic by nature. I have no doubt, therefore, that a new, even more vibrant lower Manhattan will rise from the ashes of devastation and personal loss."

Incidentally, many New Yorkers named one of the World Trade Centers, Nelson. Nelson Rockefeller was governor of New York, and the other David, who as Chairman of the Chase Bank helped finance the World Trade Center.

David Rockefeller's Memoirs is published by Random House, 517 pages, 33 photos. USA $35; Canada $53.

Mr. Janus is the author of numerous articles appearing on HCS. Readers are invited to view them in a special section, Janus Articles and Publications, of our archives for his distinguished works.

(Posting date 30 March 2007)

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