Winthrop Rockefeller was born May 1, 1912 the fourth son of John Davison Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller.
In 1936, after leaving Yale before he graduated, he went to work as a roughneck in the Texas oil fields where he lived in a $4.50 a week room and was paid 75 cents an hour; he worked up to assistant driller and eventually made 83 cents per hour. His son, Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, said “Somehow, he managed to fit in with the hard men who no doubt wondered what a Rockefeller was doing there.”
On active duty in the Pacific during World War II, Rockefeller’s division made assault landings on Guam, Leyte, and Okinawa. During the invasion of Okinawa, a Japanese kamikaze carrying two 500-pound bombs hit the troop transport Henrico. Rockefeller was the most senior officer left alive and, although wounded, he assumed command until he was relieved the following day.
Rockefeller came back to the New York desk job he did not enjoy, working in the family business. While his brothers married and began their families, he enjoyed New York’s café society. In 1948, he wed Barbara “Bobo” Sears, the mother of his only son, Winthrop Paul, but the couple later divorced.
In 1953 WR accepted the invitation of Army buddy Frank Newell and traveled with his friend Jimmy Hudson to the small southern state that would become his home – Arkansas. The plan was for him to live in Little Rock, but Newell helped Rockefeller look about for a weekend retreat and they found a spot on a mountain 60 miles from Little Rock that would become his lifelong home. The 927 acres atop Petit Jean Mountain, originally called Twin Trees, near Morrilton were just what Rockefeller wanted and he set to work immediately converting the property into a working farm and cattle ranch.
Governor Orval Faubus appointed WR to the Arkansas Industrial Development Commission and soon he was chairing the group, bringing in out-of-state experts and making personal calls to business leaders throughout the country. These prominent leaders were more than happy to speak with a Rockefeller.
After an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 1964, Rockefeller came back to win the office in 1966. The first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, Rockefeller was at odds with the largely Democratic General Assembly.
Among Rockefeller’s accomplishment during two gubernatorial terms were improvements in education, initiation of prison reforms, a business regulation cleanup, the state’s first minimum wage law, the first model cities program, the addition of many minority state employees, the first young citizen’s camp for disadvantaged youngsters, and the Freedom of Information law. Many of his proposed reforms were not enacted by a hostile legislature. Much of his legislation, including reorganization of state government and tax reform, was passed under the progressive Democrat who followed him, Dale Bumpers.
In October 1972, Rockefeller announced that he had inoperable cancer, went to Palm Springs for the remainder of his illness and died February 22, 1973.