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Laurence S. Rockefeller

1910 - 2004

Inducted October 2009

 "In the midst of the complexities of modern life, with all its pressures, the spirit of man needs to refresh itself by communion with unspoiled nature. In such surroundings- occasional as our visits may be- we can achieve that kind of physical and spiritual renewal that comes alone from the wonder of the natural world."
~Laurence S. Rockefeller

Laurence Spelman Rockefeller was born May 26, 1910, in New York City, the fourth of the six children of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. He graduated Princeton in 1932 with a B.A. in philosophy and completed two years of graduate study at Harvard Law School. During World War II, Laurnce Rockefeller served in the Navy attaining the rank of lieutenant commander.

Laurance Rockefeller pursued a number of successful careers during his lifetime. He was a pioneer in the field of venture capital. He was a leading and influential figure for three decades in the American conservation movement. He led the development of one of the world's foremost cancer care and research facilities, and was both a benefactor and advisor to major educational institutions. And, with great foresight, he combined his personal vision for conservation, recreation and the spiritual needs of individuals to develop internationally acclaimed environmentally-oriented resorts. His many accomplishments have been recognized both nationally and internationally.

Laurence S. Rockefeller and President John F. Kennedy, after the president signed the act establihing the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, 1963.
Official White House photo

Conservation of the environment and recreational development constituted much of Laurance Rockefeller's philanthropy and public service. His introduction to public service came in 1939 when Governor Herbert H. Lehman of New York appointed him to the Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC). He was president of the PIPC from 1970 to 1977 and continued as a commissioner until his resignation in December 1978. He was an advisor to Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford on matters of environmental conservation and outdoor recreation, and he worked on federal commissions set up to help develop national conservation and environmental policies and programs. In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower  ppointed him chairman of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC), which charted ways of meeting  he nation's outdoor recreation needs through the year 2000. He was a special emissary for President Lyndon Johnson in the effort that led to creation of the National Redwoods Park in California, and he served as chairman of President Nixon's Citizens' Advisory Committee on Environmental Quality, successor to a similar group which he headed under President Johnson. He played a pivotal role in the creation and development of several national parks including Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, Virgin Islands National Park on the island of St. John and Marsh, Billings, Rockefeller National Historical Park in Vermont.

Laurence Rockefeller played a pivotal role in the development of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). In 1965, Rockefeller led the way to the development of the organization adn served as the first president, signing the NRPA Founding Scroll on August 13, 1965. 

President George W. Bush presents Laurence S. Rockefeller with the Congressional Gold Medal for his lifelong contributions to the environment, September 27, 1991.
Official White House photo

While Rockefeller received the Pugsley Medal in 2004, he also receved many top honors during his lifetime on behlaf of his involvement with the environment and cancer reserach and treatment. Among them are the Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. Memorial Award from the American Cancer Society (1969), the Medal of Freedom (1969), Commander (Honorary) of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (1971), the Woodrow Wilson Award from Princeton University (1991), the Congressional Gold Medal (1991), the Chairman's Award from the National Geographic Society (1995), the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Medal of Honor (1995), and the Lady Bird Johnson Conservation Award for Lifetime Achievement (1997). In 2003, he became the first person to be made an honorary citizen of the British Virgin Islands in recognition of his many contributions to the area. In December 1959 he received the National Institute of Social Sciences' Gold Medal for distinguished services to humanity, an award previously bestowed upon his grandfather and father. This was the first time in the Institute's history that three generations of a family had been so honored. The citation to Laurance Rockefeller proclaimed him as a "creative organizer of ventures into new fields of human endeavor for the growing aspirations of mankind; [and a] leader in the conservation of natural resources and in the development of the medical and social sciences for the welfare of the individual." In 1967, the National Institute awarded Gold Medals to all five Rockefeller brothers in recognition of their individual and collective services to humanity.

Laurence S. Rockefeller's influence on the parks and conservation field hsas been enormous. He was arguable the most influencial parks and conservation figure in the second half of the twentieth century. His gifts of land ammounted to hundreds of thousands of acres. One cannot drive the Palisades Parkway in New York, stroll through Woodstock, Vermont, swim int he Virgin Islands, or hike ht trails of the Tetons without seeing and benefiting from his work. However, perhaps his most important accomplashment was to lead the transition from traditional land conservation to a more inclusive environmentalism. When he first entered the conservation arena, environmentalism was an obscure cultish subject, which was the domain of rather peripheral groups and solitary individuals who focused primarily on the preservation of wild areas. His leadership was central to moving it from there to being a prominent issiue on the national agenda. He emphasized that human beings are part of hte ecology and catering to their needs was ke to widespread public acceptance. 

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