Winthrop Rockefeller

Winthrop Rockefeller, Governor, NYC

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Winthrop A. Rockefeller (May 1, 1912 - February 22, 1973), was a politician and philanthropist who served as the first Republican Governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction. He was a third-generation member of the renowned Rockefeller family.


Winthrop Rockefeller was born in New York City, New York to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and his wife, the former Abby Greene Aldrich. His four famous brothers were: Nelson, David, Laurance and John D. III. Nelson served as Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States. Winthrop and Nelson Rockefeller were the first brothers to serve simultaneously as governors of two U.S. states.

Winthrop attended Yale University from 1931 to 1934 but was ejected as a result of misbehavior before earning his degree. Prior to attending Yale, he graduated from the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut.

He enlisted into the 77th Infantry Division in early 1941 and fought in World War II, advancing from Private to Colonel and earning a Bronze Star with clusters and Purple Heart for his actions aboard the troopship USS Henrico, after a kamikaze attack during the Battle of Okinawa. His image appears in the Infantry Officer Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.

Rockefeller moved to central Arkansas in 1953 and established Winrock Enterprises and Winrock Farms atop Petit Jean Mountain near Morrilton, Arkansas.

In 1954, Republican Pratt C. Remmel polled 37 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial general election against Democrat Orval Eugene Faubus. It was a strong showing for a Republican candidate in Arkansas. Twelve years later, Rockefeller would build on Remmel's race and win the governorship for the Republican Party.

In 1955, Faubus named Rockefeller chairman of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC).

In 1956, Rockefeller married his second wife, Jeanette Edris Barrager Bartley McDonnell, a native of Washington State. She had previous been married to a pro football player, a lawyer, and a stockbroker. By her, he acquired two stepchildren, Anne and Bruce Bartley.

He was once recognized as the single most important influence of William Jefferson Clinton who himself became governor before being elected to the White House.[citation needed] Rockefeller initiated a number of philanthropies and projects for the benefit of the people of the state. He financed the building of a model school at Morrilton, and led efforts to establish a Fine Arts Center in Little Rock. He also financed the construction of medical clinics in some of the state's poorest counties, in addition to making annual gifts to the state's colleges and universities. These philanthropic activities continue to this day through the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.

The Rockefeller administration enthusiastically embarked on a series of reforms but faced a hostile Democratic legislature. Rockefeller endured a number of personal attacks and a concerted whispering campaign regarding his personal life.

Rockefeller had a particular interest in the reform of the Arkansas prison system. Soon after his election he had received a shocking State Police report on the brutal conditions within the prison system. He decried the "lack of righteous indignation" about the situation and created the new Department of Corrections. He named a new warden, academic Tom Murton, the first professional penologist Arkansas had ever had in that role. However, he fired Murton less than a year later, when Murton's aggressive attempts to expose decades of corruption in the system subjected Arkansas to nationwide contempt.

Rockefeller also focused on the State's lackluster educational system, providing funding for new buildings and increases in teacher salaries when the legislature allowed.

At the 1968 Republican National Convention, Winthrop Rockefeller received backing from members of the Arkansas delegation as a "favorite son" presidential candidate. He received all of the Arkansas's delegation's 18 votes; his brother Nelson, then concluding a major presidential bid, received 277 and together they became the first, and to date the only, brothers ever to receive votes for President at the same major-party convention.

Rockefeller won re-election in November 1968 and proposed tax increases to pay for additional reforms. Rockefeller and the legislature dueled with competing public-relations campaigns and Rockefeller's plan ultimately collapsed in the face of public indifference. Much of Rockefeller's second term was spent fighting with the opposition legislature.

With Rockefeller's reelection, the Republicans won a rare seat in the Arkansas State Senate with the election of Jim Caldwell of Rogers in northwestern Arkansas.

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