Winthrop Rockefeller

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Winthrop Paul Rockefeller Sr. was a philanthropist and governor of the State of Arkansas from 1967 to 1971.

Early Life and Education

Rockefeller was born May 1, 1912, in New York City. Rockefeller was the grandson of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Company. In his youth Rockefeller was gangly, shy, somewhat overweight, and regularly teased by his brothers. He never felt comfortable public speaking. Rockefeller found formal education difficult, suffering from dyslexia. He entered Yale University but later dropped out to work in the Texas oil fields as a roughneck.

Rockefeller served in the United States Army during World War II. He enlisted on January 22, 1941, and joined the Twenty-Sixth Regiment of the First Infantry Division. He taught machine gunning at Fort Benning, Georgia, and by 1942 had risen to the rank of captain. In November 1943 Rockefeller was promoted to major. Rockefeller was present for the Battle of Guam, Battle of Leyte, and the Battle of Okinawa. He was wounded at Okinawa. He left the Army as lieutenant colonel with a Bronze Star, an Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.

In 1953 Rockefeller left New York to begin a new life in Arkansas. (Shortly thereafter his first wife "Bobo Rockefeller," with whom he had a son Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, divorced him.) He arrived at the Hotel Sam Peck in Little Rock on June 9, 1953. He purchased land atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas, built the Petit Jean Airport for his private jet, and began raising cattle. By 1955, Rockefeller had been named steward of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC). To hire the people he wanted in various positions in the AIDC Rockefeller supplemented salaries with private money from his considerable fortune. While Rockefeller served in this position more than six hundred new industrial plants opened in the state, providing approximately 90,000 new jobs for Arkansas residents. While the national rise in manufacturing wages was 36 percent, Arkansas's wages grew 88 percent.

In 1956 Rockefeller married Jeanette Edris. She had two sons from a previous marriage.

Rockfeller's Two Terms as Governor

Rockefeller successfully ran for governor in 1966, in the processing becoming the first Republican governor of the state since Reconstruction. Rockefeller's two terms were filled with various business achievements and reforms for the state of Arkansas. Some of the major achievements include: the state's first minimum wage, stricter law insurance regulation, and creating a law to guarantee freedom of information.

Rockefeller had a personal belief in racial equality and broke down many barriers for African Americans in Arkansas. He increased the number of blacks working in state government from 325 to 1,800 during his tenure as governor. Rockefeller also integrated the Arkansas State Police. On April 4, 1968, Rockefeller was the only Southern governor to hold a public ceremony of mourning for the death of Martin Luther King Jr.


Rockefeller was known for his generosity in funding various facilities and programs in and out of Arkansas. He raised money for the Greater New York Fund in the early 1950s before moving to Arkansas. In 1956 he created the Rockwin Fund, an educational charity. To attack the problem of housing the poor he created Winrock Enterprises. To address housing needs outside the United States he established the International Basic Economy Corporation. His ranching operation, Winrock Farms and the Winrock International Livestock Research and Training Center became the philanthropic Winrock International Agricultural Development Institute. Winthrop Rocekfeller also helped established the Arkansas Community Foundation to service a wide variety of needs in the state. He gave away about $20 million in his lifetime, and $168 million more through the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation. Most of his money went to causes in the areas of racial equality, education, the arts, healthcare, religion, and veteran's affairs.

Rockefeller and Jeannette divorced in 1970. After his two terms as governor Rockefeller suffered from chronic alcoholism. He died of pancreatic cancer on February 22, 1973.


  • John L. Ward, Winthrop Rockefeller, Philanthropist: A Life of Change (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2004), vii-ix, 1-5, 12, 15, 17, 19, 34-35, 79, 107, 121.

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