Laurance Rockefeller

black and white photo of Laurance Rockefeller over age 60
Laurance Rockefeller

Quick Facts
financier, conservationist, businessman
Place of Birth:
New York, NY
Date of Birth:
May 26, 1910
Place of Death:
New York, NY
Date of Death:
July 11, 2004
Place of Burial:
Sleepy Hollow, Mount Pleasant, NY
Cemetery Name:
Rockefeller Family Cemetery

Laurance Rockefeller was the fourth child of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Abby Greene Aldrich. Laurance's grandfather, John D. Rockefeller Sr., was the head of the Standard Oil Company. Laurance's father, John D. Rockefeller Jr., was an enthusiastic supporter of park-building and historic preservation, and the Great Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah, Grand Teton, Acadia, and Redwood National Parks are testimony to his generosity.

From a young age, Laurance demonstrated a fascination with the natural world. He discovered the wonders of the West on trips to the Grand Canyon, the Tetons, Yellowstone and Yosemite. He became a trustee of the New York Zoological Society at the age of twenty-five, and was appointed to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission a few years later.

In 1940, Laurance's father, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., established the Jackson Hole Preserve to promote conservation and to protect family land holdings in the Tetons of Wyoming. Laurance became the first president of the Jackson Hole Preserve. After he returned from World War II, he began to build upon his father's vision of expanding the national park system by partnering conservation of natural spaces with the provision of tourist accommodation and facilities so that more Americans could experience their country's scenic wonders.

From the 1950s through the late 1960s, Laurance served as a “citizen advisor” on matters of conservation, recreation, and the environment, working as a non-elected but prominent and influential spokesman for five presidents, from Eisenhower to Ford, to make conservation a higher priority for government officials and the public at large. In 1958, Laurance was named chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC). Under his leadership, the Commission devised a visionary management plan for open space and public recreation. Throughout his career as a conservationist, Laurance articulated a comprehensive approach to land stewardship that combined preservation with public access. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal "in recognition of his leadership on behalf of natural resource conservation and historic preservation." During the Johnson Administration, Laurance chaired the White House Conference on Natural Beauty, a group that hoped to protect and promote natural beauty not only in wilderness areas but in cities and along highways. Subsequently, while serving with Lady Bird Johnson on the Committee for a More Beautiful Capital, Laurance oversaw improvements to Washington, D.C. parks, gardens, playgrounds, and memorial statues. 

Laurance Rockefeller purchased and developed a resort on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and also donated 5000 acres of the island to the National Park Service, which eventually became Virgin Islands National Park. He created seven complexes of resort developments, eventually managed together as Rockresorts Inc, established in 1966. These resorts were not linked to national park land; rather, they were private business ventures intended to both generate long-term profits and benefit the economy of the local area. 

Laurance and Mary Rockefeller were married in 1934, and together had four children. Laurance described their marriage as a “partnership,” one of “parallel careers,” and many of their interests and commitments mirrored the other’s. Both were heavily involved in one another's business and philanthropic endeavors, especially those involving the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York and causes relating to natural and historic resources.

Laurance and Mary were actively involved in the preservation of Mary's family estate in Woodstock, Vermont, and the surrounding community. In 1969, the Rockefellers purchased and revitalized the Wodstock Inn. In 1983, they helped to established the Billings Farm & Museum. and in 1992, Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park. The couple planned to continue to live in the historic mansion on the property until 1998, when the National Park was slated to open for public visitation. Mary Rockefeller passed away in 1997. Laurance participated in the park opening ceremony in 1998. Laurance died in 2004, at the age of ninety-four.

Marsh - Billings - Rockefeller National Historical Park

Last updated: November 27, 2023