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|37th Governor of Arkansas|
January 10, 1967 – January 12, 1971
|Preceded by||Orval Faubus|
|Succeeded by||Dale Bumpers|
|Born||May 1, 1912
New York City
|Died||February 22, 1973
Palm Springs, California
|Resting place||Winrock Farms
(m. 1948–1954; divorced)
(m. 1956–1971; divorced)
|Children||Winthrop Paul Rockefeller|
|Parents||John Davison Rockefeller Jr.
Abigail Greene Aldrich
|Relatives||See Rockefeller family|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1941–1945|
|Unit||77th Infantry Division|
|Battles/wars||World War II|
Winthrop Rockefeller (May 1, 1912 – February 22, 1973) was an American politician and philanthropist, who served as the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction. He was a third-generation member of the Rockefeller family.
Winthrop Rockefeller was born in New York, to philanthropists John Davison Rockefeller Jr. (1874–1960) and Abigail Greene "Abby" Aldrich (1874–1948). He had one elder sister named Abby, three elder brothers John III, Nelson, and Laurance, and a younger brother named David. Nelson served as Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States.
Winthrop attended Yale University (1931–34) 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.
In early 1941, he enlisted in the Army. As a soldier of the 77th Infantry Division, he fought in World War II, advancing from Private to Lieutenant Colonel. He earned a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Clusters and a Purple Heart for his actions aboard the troopship USS Henrico, after a kamikaze attack during the invasion of Okinawa. His image appears in the Infantry Officer Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Georgia.
On February 14, 1948, Winthrop married actress Jievute "Bobo" Paulekiute (September 6, 1916 – May 19, 2008). She was previously married to Boston Brahmin socialite John Sears Jr. The wedding took place in Florida, and at the reception, a choir sang Negro spirituals. On September 17, 1948, she gave birth to their son, Winthrop Paul "Win" Rockefeller.
The couple separated in 1950 and divorced in 1954. Bobo got custody of Win.
On June 11, 1956, Rockefeller wed the Seattle-born socialite Jeanette Edris (1918–1997). She had two children, Bruce and Ann Bartley, from a previous marriage. Winthrop and Jeanette had no children together and divorced shortly after he left the governorship in 1971.
As the state's First Lady, Jeanette Rockefeller took a special interest in mental health issues.
Move to Arkansas
In 1954, Republican Pratt C. Remmel polled 37 percent of the vote in the gubernatorial general election against Democrat Orval Faubus. It was a good showing for a Republican candidate in Arkansas, compared to previous races in the 1940s and early 1950s. Twelve years later, Rockefeller would build upon Remmel's race and win the governorship for the Republican Party.
In 1955, Faubus appointed Rockefeller chairman of the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission (AIDC).
Rockefeller initiated a number of philanthropies and projects. He financed the building of a model school at Morrilton and led efforts to establish a Fine Arts Center in the capital city of 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.
First political campaigns
In 1960, Rockefeller did not seek the governorship but instead raised funds for the Republican nominee, Henry M. Britt, a conservative lawyer from Hot Springs, the seat of Garland County. Britt lost in every county and barely polled 30 percent of the statewide vote in his loss to Faubus. In 1961, Rockefeller was named Arkansas Republican national committeeman, having succeeded Wallace Townsend, a lawyer in Little Rock who had held the position since 1928. In 1962, Rockefeller supported Willis Ricketts, another in a long line of failed Republican candidates who sought to topple Faubus. He also supported a slate of Republican legislative candidates. Soon, he quarreled with state Republican party chairman William L. Spicer of Fort Smith over the direction of the party. Spicer favored a stronger conservative approach compared to Rockefeller's moderate-to-liberal outlook.
Rockefeller resigned his position with the AIDC and conducted his first campaign for governor in 1964 against Faubus. His campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, but Rockefeller energized and reformed the tiny Republican Party to set the stage for the future. In 1964, Osro Cobb, a Republican former state chairman who had also served as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, refused to endorse Rockefeller but openly Faubus, who subseqauently gave Cobb a temporary appointment to the Arkansas Supreme Court.
In his memoirs, Cobb recalls that Rockefeller
had used ruthless tactics to convert the fine Republican state organization into a one-man Rockefeller machine, loyal not to party but to Rockefeller personally. In rapid succession, Mr. Rockefeller captiously took over most of the functions of the state chairman and in a matter of months succeeded in taking over and exercising absolute right of dictation as to each and every important party function at the state level. Such one-man dictatorship is clearly the deadly enemy of any semblance of two-party government. ... Faithful Republican leaders who have worked tirelessly over the years have been pushed aside or replaced. ... A stranger passing through Arkansas at this time and seeing Mr. Rockefeller's advertising on billboards would not know whether Mr. Rockefeller belonged to any political party. Certainly the fact that he is the Republican nominee has not been included. The evidence simply is unanswerable that Mr. Rockefeller is working for his own personal interest to the exclusion of all other considerations, which leaves the Republican Party in Arkansas hanging precariously at the whims of one individual.....
The election of 1966
When Rockefeller made his second run in the 1966 election, only 11 percent of Arkansans considered themselves Republicans. But Arkansans had tired of Faubus after six terms as governor and as head of the Democratic "machine". Democrats themselves seemed to be more interested in the reforms that Rockefeller offered in his campaign than "winning another one for the party". An odd coalition of Republicans and Democratic reform voters catapulted Rockefeller into the governor's office, as he defeated a segregationist Democratic former Justice of the Arkansas Supreme Court, James D. Johnson of Conway in Faulkner County, who preferred the appellation "Justice Jim".
Former state Republican chairman Osro Cobb reversed himself in 1966 and endorsed Rockefeller. He explains:
Arkansas Republicans were eager to work with Winthrop Rockefeller on another race for governor if he could be led to run as a true Republican to help build the party in the state. I liked him personally. He showed me many courtesies, and I still thought [despite feelings in 1964] that he would make a good governor and could be elected on the Republican ticket..... He had learned a lesson. And he won his next two races for governor..... His service contributed greatly to the enormous benefits of two-party government in Arkansas.
In a surprise, Rockefeller's running-mate for lieutenant governor, Maurice L. Britt, a decorated World War II veteran and a former professional football player, was narrowly elected to the second-ranking post over the Democrat James Pilkington of Hope, Arkansas.
Other Rockefeller running-mates, such as former Democratic State Representative Jerry Thomasson of Arkadelphia, who sought the office of attorney general in 1966 and 1968, and Leona Troxell of Rose Bud in White County, who ran for state treasurer in 1968, were defeated.
Only three Republicans won election to the 100-member Arkansas House of Representatives at the time of Rockefeller's first victory: George E. Nowotny, of Fort Smith, Danny Patrick of Madison County, and Jim Sheets of Siloam Springs in Benton County. Another Republican representative, Marshall Chrisman of Ozark in Franklin County, served in the state House from 1969 to 1970.
Two Republicans ran for U.S. Representative on the Rockefeller ticket in 1966. John Paul Hammerschmidt, the outgoing party chairman, won in the northwestern Third District. Lynn Lowe, a Texarkana farmer, who later served as party chairman from 1974–1980, lost in the southern Fourth District race to the Democrat David Pryor.
At the time Winthrop became governor, his brother Nelson Rockefeller had been the governor of New York since 1959, and remained so throughout Winthrop's four years in office. They are often erroneously cited as the first two brothers to be governors at the same time, but they were actually the third case; the previous instances were Levi and Enoch Lincoln from 1827 to 1829, and John and William Bigler from 1852 to 1855. More recently, George W. and Jeb Bush were both governors from 1999 to 2000.
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 his state's 18 votes; his brother Nelson, then concluding a major presidential bid against Richard M. Nixon, received 277. This was the only time in the 20th century that the names of two brothers were placed into nomination at the same time.
Governor of Arkansas
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.
Scholars Diane Blair and Jay L. Barth continue: “As long as Rockefeller led the Arkansas Republicans, the party had a progressive, reformist cast, and those whom Rockefeller had brought into the party continued to dominate party offices and shape presidential preferences until 1980,” when the nomination and election of Ronald Reagan of California as president and Frank D. White as governor moved power within the state GOP “sharply to the right.” Ultimately the growth of the Republican Party was slower in Arkansas than in the other southern states in the post-segregation era. Blair and Barth attribute sluggish GOP development to "tradition, [which] is important to rural people. They are looking for ways to stay with the Democratic Party; they have to be run off."
According to his biographer, Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, Rockefeller’s “good-government” reform proposals included: revision of the Arkansas State Constitution, governmental administrative reorganization, election law reform (a "little Hatch Act" to prohibit state employees from engaging in political activities on the job), teacher tenure, taxpayer-funded kindergarten under Amendment 53, adult and continuing education programs, rehabilitation and vocational training in the corrections system, and the recurring attempts at industrial recruitment. One of Rockefeller’s most publicized “good-government” reforms was the ending of illegal gambling in the resort city of Hot Springs. He also made headway in streamlining state government and secured passage of a state minimum-wage law.
Urwin determined that Rockefeller's negatives created public perceptions of "his personal flaws, rather than his accomplishments or lack of them, as governor." Considered a weak administrator, he depended too heavily on staff, so improperly managed that the employees often failed to answer mail. He was habitually tardy to meetings. A special legislative session in May 1968 was particularly disastrous. An Oliver Quayle poll in 1968 declared that Rockefeller seemed “strange, alien, and foreign” to many voters. The poll maintained that many thought Rockefeller sought too much power, that he drank too much, and that he spent too little time in his office. A majority said that the wealthy Rockefeller, despite his interest in “good government,” could not understand the problems of common people on restricted incomes or those in the middle class with limited investment opportunities.
Rockefeller had a particular interest in the reform of the Arkansas prison system. Soon after his election he had received a shocking report from the Arkansas State Police on the brutal conditions within the prison system. He decried the "lack of righteous indignation" about the situation and created a new Department of Corrections. He appointed a new warden, academic Tom Murton, the first professional penologist that the state had ever retained in that capacity. 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 and proposed funding increases for new buildings and teacher salaries when the legislature allowed.
In 1967, Rockefeller named an FBI agent, Lynn A. Davis, to head the state police with orders to halt illegal gambling in Hot Springs. After sensational raids against the mobsters, Davis was forced out as police director 128 days later when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that he did not meet the strict 10-year residency requirement for the appointment. Democratic lawmakers refused to change the rule to allow Davis to serve. The Hot Springs raids were the No. 1 news story in Arkansas in 1967 as determined by the Associated Press.
Rockefeller won re-election in November 1968, having defeated Marion H. Crank, a state legislator from Foreman in Little River County, who had won the Democratic nomination in a heated fight with Virginia Morris Johnson, wife of Jim Johnson and the first woman ever to seek the office of governor of Arkansas. Newly reelected, Rockefeller proposed tax increases to fund additional reforms and his second term began on January 14, 1969. 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 in conflict with the opposition legislature. In 1969, he told the lawmakers that his reelection the previous November had meant that a slim majority of voters had approved of tax increases. He proposed to spend half of the new revenues sought on education, 12 percent on health and welfare, 10 percent on local government, and the remainder on state employee salaries and streamlined services. “There are no frills in what I am proposing..... no luxuries..... no monuments to me as an individual..... I implore every member of the General Assembly as I have myself: Listen to the voice of the people..... not to the selfish interests.”
Ernest Dumas, then with the since defunct Arkansas Gazette in Little Rock noted that the Rockefeller revenue package was essentially dead-on-arrival in both houses of the legislature though parts of the program were enacted piecemeal in the subsequent administration of the Democrat Dale Bumpers. Dumas describes Rockefeller as the “most liberal governor in Arkansas history” in light of his attempts to increase taxes to augment the size and scope of state government as well as steadfast support for civil rights and opposition to capital punishment.
During this term Rockefeller quietly and successfully completed the integration of Arkansas schools that had been such a political bombshell only a few years before. He established the Council on Human Relations despite opposition from the legislature. Draft boards in the state boasted the highest level of racial integration of any U.S. state by the time that Rockefeller left office.
In 1970, it was disclosed that Rockefeller had maintained a list of militants for use by law enforcement to prevent potential disorders on Arkansas college and university campuses. The list drew opposition from some of his opponents, including an unsuccessful Democratic primary hopeful, state House Speaker Hayes McClerkin of Texarkana. McClerkin argued that the list may have contained the names of those who merely disagreed with Rockefeller politically.
In 1970, the Arkansas GOP under Rockefeller hired its first paid executive director, Neal Sox Johnson of Nashville in Howard County. Johnson left the position in 1973 to take a high position with the former Farmers Home Administration in Washington, D.C., and was replaced by Ken Coon, who carried the party's gubernatorial banner in 1974 against David Pryor.
End of the Rockefeller era
In the 1970 campaign, Rockefeller expected to face Orval Faubus, who led the old-guard Democrats, but the previously unknown Dale Bumpers of Charleston in Franklin County rose to the top of the Democratic heap by promising reforms. Bumpers' charisma and "fresh face" were too much for an incumbent Republican to overcome. Rockefeller lost his third-term bid, but he had inadvertently propelled the Democrats to reform their own party. Maurice Britt managed the 1970 campaign, and he was replaced on the Republican ticket for lieutenant governor by Sterling R. Cockrill of Little Rock, the former Democratic House Speaker in Rockefeller's first term. Cockrill switched parties in the spring of 1970 to make the race; he was defeated by the Democrat Bob C. Riley but finished 35,000 votes ahead of Rockefeller.
Reflecting on his defeat, Rockefeller said:
It has been said by some that I asked for too much. Perhaps so. You tell me -- what quality of leadership would ask too little? What sort of leadership would be content merely to maintain a standard of living that for so long has been so meager for so many? The shame upon me and my administration would have been in not struggling for something better. Today, I am not ashamed..... The most meaningful measurement of progress is that certain things are no longer acceptable to us as a people.
With the 1970 elections, the Republicans were reduced to a single member of each legislative chamber, Preston Bynum of Siloam Springs in the House and Jim Caldwell in the Senate. Danny Patrick, elected with Rockefeller in 1966 and 1968, went down to defeat in Madison and Carroll counties at the hands of Stephen A. Smith, who at twenty-one became Arkansas' youngest-ever state legislator, a designation that Patrick himself had taken only four years earlier.
As a dramatic last act, Governor Rockefeller, a longtime death penalty opponent, commuted the sentences of every prisoner on Arkansas's Death Row and urged the governors of other states to do likewise. Thirty-three years later, in January 2003, Illinois' lame duck governor, George Ryan, would do the same, granting blanket commutations to the 167 inmates then sentenced to death in that state.
Before he left office, Rockefeller appointed a young public administrator, Jerry Climer, to the vacant post of Pulaski County clerk. Two years later, Climer ran for secretary of state. He later founded two Washington, D.C.-based "think tanks." and left office on January 12, 1971.
In 1972, Rockefeller persuaded Len E. Blaylock of Perry County, his former welfare commissioner known for expertise in government administration to be the Republican gubernatorial nominee. Blaylock lost to Bumpers by an even greater margin than had Rockefeller in 1970. Rockefeller that year also supported the unsuccessful candidacy of Wayne H. Babbitt, a North Little Rock veterinarian who became the only Republican ever to challenge the reelection of U.S. Senator John L. McClellan.
Rockefeller hired as a $300-a-month secretary Judy Petty, who went on to serve two terms in the state legislature and to carry the Republican standard twice in races for Congress.
In September 1972, Rockefeller was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and endured a devastating round of chemotherapy. When he returned to Arkansas the populace was shocked at the gaunt and haggard appearance of what had been a giant of a man.
Winthrop Rockefeller died February 22, 1973, in Palm Springs, California, at the age of sixty. His body was cremated, and his ashes were interred at Winrock Farms in Morrilton, Arkansas.
The legacy of Winthrop Rockefeller lives on in the form of numerous charities, scholarships, and the activities of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation and the Winthrop Rockefeller Charitable Trust, including Winrock International, an international nonprofit organization based in Little Rock, Arkansas whose mission is to empower disadvantaged people, increase economic opportunity, and sustain natural resources. The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation provides funding for projects across Arkansas to encourage economic development, education, and racial and social justice. In 1964, he founded Museum of Automobiles on Petit Jean Mountain, which after his death in 1973 was given to the Arkansas State Parks system; a non-profit organization was formed to run the museum; in March 2007, the Charitable Trust pledged $100,000 for its ongoing operations if the museum raised an equal amount by the end of that year.
Rockefeller's political legacy lives on in both the Republican and Democratic parties of Arkansas, both of which were forced to reform as a result of his presence on the state scene.
Rockefeller was the subject of the December 2, 1966, cover of Time magazine.
Winthrop Rockefeller's son and only child, Win, served as Arkansas lieutenant governor, having won a special election in 1996 to succeed Mike Huckabee. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller then won two full four-year terms in 1998 and 2002. Like his father, Win Paul Rockefeller's political career was cut short by a devastating cancer.
During his tenure as chairman of Colonial Williamsburg, Winthrop was a frequent visitor at the foundation's Carter's Grove Plantation eight miles away in James City County, Virginia. He is credited with helping develop a plan with Gussie Busch in the early 1970s to turn a portion of the large tract of undeveloped land between the two points into the massive Anheuser-Busch (AB) investment there, which included building a large brewery, the Busch Gardens Williamsburg theme park, the Kingsmill planned resort community, and McLaws Circle, an office park. AB and related entities from that development plan now are the source of the area's largest employment base, surpassing both Colonial Williamsburg and the local military bases.
- Miller, Stephen. "Bobo Rockefeller, 91, Married Well, Divorced Better". The New York Sun. Retrieved 21 May 2008.
- "The Bride Wore Pink", Time magazine, 23 February 1948
- "Take It Or Leave It", Time magazine, June 23, 1952
- Lubbock Avalanche-Journal via newspaperarchive.com 17 September 2011
- "The Life of Winthrop Rockefeller" wrfoundation.org Archived 2012-04-02 at the Wayback Machine. 17 September 2011
- Osro Cobb, Osro Cobb of Arkansas:Memoirs of Significance, Carol Griffee, ed. (Little Rock, Arkansas: Rose Publishing Company, 1989), pp. 140-141.
- "Arkansas: Squealing at the Lick Log". Time. 1966-11-04.
- Coincidentally, Rockefeller resided in Conway County and Johnson had relocated to Conway in Faulkner County.
- Cobb, pp.143-144
- Diane Divers Blair (1938-2000) and Jay L. Barth (born 1939), Arkansas Government and Politics, 2nd ed. (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), p. 71.
- Blair and Barth, Arkansas Politics and Government, p. 71.
- Blair and Barth, p. 340.
- Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, Agenda for Reform : Winthrop Rockefeller as Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71 (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1991), p. 110.
- Urwin, p. 112.
- Urwin, p. 110
- Urwin, pp. 110-111
- Randy Sanders, Mighty Peculiar Elections: The News South Gubernatorial Campaigns of 1970 and the Changing Politics of Race (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002), p. 41
- The New York Times, January 9, 28, 1968
- John L. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978, pp. 104-105.
- After his political career ended in 1979, Caldwell, a Church of Christ minister, moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
- Irwin, p. 117
- Statement of Ernest Dumas, December 2011
- Scott, Lauren. "A look at the life of Winthrop Rockefeller in Arkansas". THV11. Retrieved 8 February 2012.
- John L. Ward, The Arkansas Rockefeller (Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1978), pp. 167-168, 175; Arkansas Democrat, January 3, 8, 1970.
- Arkansas Outlook, Arkansas Republican Party newsletter, February 1973.
- Arkansas Secretary of State, General election returns, November 3, 1970
- The Arkansas Outlook, January 1971
- "Stephen A. Smith, University of Arkansas, "People, Power, and Realpoliticks in the Provinces"". acjournal.org. Archived from the original on June 11, 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2012.
- Clemency in Arkansas - TIME
- "Winrock International", The Enyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. Retrieved on 29 February 2016.
- wmcstations.com via AP
- Memoirs, David Rockefeller, New York: Random House, 2002.
- The Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller: Worlds to Conquer, 1908-1958, New York: Doubleday, 1996.
- Winthrop Rockefeller, Philanthropist: A Life of Change, John L. Ward, University of Arkansas Press, 2004.
- Agenda for Reform: Winthrop Rockefeller As Governor of Arkansas, 1967-71, Cathy Kunzinger Urwin, University of Arkansas Press, 1991.
- "Friendly Rivalry: Winthrop Rockefeller Challenges Orval Faubus in 1964", Billy Hathorn, Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Winter 1994), 446-473.
- Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
- Time Magazine Cover (Time Magazine Archive Site)
- Winthrop Rockefeller Institute
- Winrock International
- Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture entry: Winthrop Rockefeller
- Winthrop Rockefeller Archives
- Winthrop Rockefeller at Find a Grave
- Finding Aid, Winthrop Rockefeller Collection, 1912-1973, UA Little Rock Center for Arkansas History and Culture
|Governor of Arkansas
January 10, 1967 – January 12, 1971
Dale L. Bumpers
|Party political offices|
|Republican nominee for Governor of Arkansas
1964, 1966, 1968, 1970
Len E. Blaylock
|Republican National Committeeman from Arkansas