Happy Rockefeller [Margaretta Rockefeller, née Fitler]

* Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr, 09-06-1926     New York, Pocantico Hills, 19-05-2015

Obituaries & biographies, 88 Years

The daughter of the millionaire heir to a maritime rope fortune, Margaretta Large Fitler was born at Bryn Mawr in Pennsylvania on June 6 1926.

She was nicknamed “Happy”, as she later recalled it, after her French nursemaid heard the news on the radio that Charles Lindbergh had safely landed in Paris having made the first solo transatlantic flight. Overcome with delight, she starting bouncing one-year-old Margaretta; the child grinned in response and the nursemaid cried out: “You are zee most happy baby I have ever seen.’’

Happy, descended from General George Gordon Meade, who defeated the Confederates at the Battle of Gettysburg, had a privileged upbringing, although it was marked by sadness – her parents divorced when she was 10. She attended the Shipley School, Bryn Mawr, and in the penultimate year of the war took a job as a driver for the Women’s Volunteer Service in Philadelphia.

In 1949 she married Dr Murphy; he worked at the Rockefeller Institute in New York and was friendly with various Rockefellers, which led naturally to Happy volunteering to help Nelson in his first campaign for the New York governorship.

In 1974, while her husband was vice president, Happy Rockefeller discovered a lump near her left armpit which proved to be a malignant tumour. She was prompted to seek a check-up by the example of Betty Ford, the President’s wife, who had turned her breast cancer diagnosis into a public awareness campaign. Happy was widely praised for her decision to speak openly about her illness and treatment. She underwent two mastectomies and, as she later recalled, “swift, early detection and action made it possible for me to have a full and rewarding life”.

Happy and Nelson Rockefeller lived in opulent style and spent many happy years with their children and those of Nelson’s first marriage at the Rockefeller family seat, Kykuit, in the Pocantico Hills. They also had a vast apartment in Fifth Avenue, hung with paintings by Matisse and Picasso, and holiday houses in Maine and Venezuela. Nelson was a hands-on father, teaching the boys to sail and play tennis and camping out with them. After he died in 1979 Kykuit was passed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, eventually, opened to the public.
The circumstances of Nelson Rockefeller’s death were the subject of much fevered speculation. According to his biographer, Richard Norton Smith, he died of a heart attack while naked at a Manhattan town house with his 25-year-old aide, Megan Marshack.

Happy Rockefeller retained a small Japanese-style house on the family estate and in later years divided her time between it and an apartment in Manhattan, pursuing a busy round of philanthropic commitments.

Interviewed in 1985 she said of Nelson Rockefeller: “I resolutely adored him. I’d do it all over again, only faster.”

Happy Rockefeller is survived by a son and two daughters of her first marriage and her two sons with Rockefeller; one daughter from her first marriage died in 2005.

Source: The Telegraph

Published on: 20-05-2015