David, patriarch of that family and of a vanished Wasp establishment, celebrated his 100th birthday.
These days he is pretty low in the billionaires’ pecking order: 603rd according to Forbes magazine, the chronicler of such matters, with a fortune of “only” $3.2bn. Even the family’s total wealth, much of it locked away in trusts, is put at a relatively modest $10bn – enough to buy fleets of yachts, private jets and a couple of mansions in Belgravia, but not a patch on his grandfather John D Rockefeller. When he died in 1937, “Senior”, the founder of Standard Oil and a contender for the world’s richest ever individual, was reckoned to have assets equal to 1.5 per cent of US GDP, about $250bn today. Compared with that, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are distant also-rans.
From almost the moment of his birth, on 12 June 1915, in the embers of the Gilded Age, David was the favourite grandchild: the one, according to “Senior”, who was “most like myself”. The others of John Rockefeller Jnr’s six children are now long gone. Winthrop, a former governor of Arkansas, died in 1973. Abigail, David’s only sister, died in 1976, followed by John in 1978, and by Nelson – his most famous sibling, governor of New York and Gerald Ford’s vice-president – in 1979. Laurance Rockefeller, an airline magnate, survived until 2004. David is the last one left. And in his day, Nelson notwithstanding, he was probably the most influential of them all.