"I think that Colonial Williamsburg is a great example of my grandfather John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s love for this country and also his passion for sharing the history of the foundation of our country. It educates visitors about the values of the founding fathers of this country," said Eileen Rockefeller in a recent interview with the Lake Placid News and The Virginia Gazette.
Sitting across the conference table at the elegantly appointed Williamsburg Inn that her grandfather envisaged as a "home away from home," Eileen Rockefeller was responding to the question of whether she thinks Colonial Williamsburg fulfills its mission of serving as a historic place that helps "the future to learn from the past."
"My grandparents wanted Americans to remember forever their roots, and their own countries of origin and learn what America stands for," she said.
Photo courtesy of Eileen Rockfeller
Eileen, is the youngest daughter of David and Peggy Rockefeller, and is seen as a leading member of the family's fourth generation. She is devoted to the mission of creating effective philanthropy. She founded the Institute for the Advancement of Health, dealing with the scientific understanding of mind-body interaction, and was a pioneer in fostering research into what is called emotional intelligence. She and her husband, Paul, founded the Champlain Valley Greenbelt Alliance to protect green belts along major corridors of Vermont. Currently, she is deeply involved in other environmental issues, above all in the limiting of the use of coal as an energy source. Coal, according to Rockefeller, is a leading factor in climate change, contributing 40 percent of all carbon emission to the atmosphere, and she considers it her mission to educate the public about this issue.
All this and much more is part of her recently published memoir, "Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself." The book, which took six years to write, is an honest, down-to-earth description of "growing up as a Rockefeller."
The blurb of the book informs us that Eileen understood at an early age that her name was synonymous with American royalty: "She learned in childhood that wealth and fame could open any door, but as the youngest of six children and one of twenty-two cousins in one of the world's most famous families, she began to realize that they could not buy a sense of personal worth."
The absence of parental attention, her mother's struggle with depression, intense competition with siblings, endless curiosity about the Rockefeller family - all contributed to her sense of isolation and loneliness. Fortunately, her mother's passion for rural life, which she instilled in her children, proved the saving grace for finding her balance and becoming a highly accomplished woman and mother.
At one point in her life, she, her husband Paul and their children, 8 and 9, moved into a farmhouse in Vermont that was built in the 1840s. They lived there for almost half of the year, without electricity or adequate cooking facilities. Eileen was quoted saying, "I created lesson plans in the four basic areas of survival: food, shelter, clothing and community. The children helped plant, weed and harvest our food. Then we made our own candles and used only candlelight or kerosene. We boiled water and put it in big harvest tub for their bathtub, while I read them a book on Abraham Lincoln."
Rockefeller's new book has earned high praise from such accomplished writers as Reeve Lindbergh. She wrote, "Eileen Rockefeller has written a thoroughly engaging perspective, and warm-hearted memoir, deftly weaving together the threads of family history and personal journey in the story of her own coming of age. There is beautiful writing here with fresh and energetic voice and narrative that goes far beyond the inevitable resonances of fame and fortune and into a complex family landscape where, luckily, our guide not only is familiar with the territory, but is also compassionate, loving, and very wise."
Listening to Eileen Rockefeller talk about her family and her life, you know that Reeve Lindbergh's description has the ring of truth.
I asked Rockefeller, who lives on an organic farm in Shelburne, Vt., whether she would accept an invitation from the Lake Placid Institute's Adirondack Round Table to be a guest speaker. She replied, "Of course, it would be a very valid reason to visit once again that beautiful place."
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.