Home News Local news Rockefeller, Who Shaped St. John's Future, Dies

Rockefeller, Who Shaped St. John's Future, Dies


July 12, 2004 – V. I. residents on Monday celebrated the life of Laurence S. Rockefeller, a wealthy philanthropist and conservationist, who died Sunday at age 94 at his home in New York. He died from pulmonary fibrosis.
Rockefeller, with a small group of his friends, is credited with preserving St. John's natural resources by sowing the seeds for V.I. National Park.
St. John Administrator Julien Harley said that without Rockefeller's foresight, St. John would look vastly different than it does today.
"If the land was private, we wouldn't be able to walk on the trails," he said.
Harley said that, thanks to the national park's presence, St. John has a healthy economy that lures more than a million visitors a year.
Friends of the Park President Joe Kessler said that he met with Rockefeller about three months ago in New York.
"We were talking about St. John. He has very clear recollections about it," Kessler said.
He said Rockefeller's death is a great loss to conservation and philanthropic movements since people with his kind of wealth now seem reluctant to follow in his footsteps.
"It's really a loss," he said.
Caneel Bay Resort's executive assistant Peggy Blitz worked closely with Rockefeller on his visits to the hotel.
"He was a gentleman through and through," she recalled.
She said despite his wealth and position, Rockefeller was reluctant to ask anyone to do anything for him.
Blitz said that Rockefeller last visited St. John several years ago, staying as usual at the legendary Cottage Seven on Caneel's main beach.
She said he liked to ride the Caneel Mary III, named after his wife.
Crystal Fortwangler, a University of Michigan graduate student who studied the park's origins as part of her doctoral research in St. John, said in a 2003 forum that Rockefeller began his work in the early 1950s.
She said that Rockefeller and his conservation organization, Jackson Hole Preserve, as well as wildlife illustrator, conservationist and real estate developer Frank Stick began buying up St. John land. Rockefeller started by purchasing 600 acres at Caneel Bay, which was already a resort.
Fortwangler said that, although some people donated their land, Rockefeller claims to have spent $1 million buying property. That land was turned over to the federal government for the park.
Congress eventually authorized the park with a bill signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Aug. 2, 1956. The bill authorized 9,500 acres, with 9,458 acres on St. John and 50 acres on St. Thomas. The park was dedicated on Dec. 1, 1956, the same day Rockefeller reopened his spiffier Caneel Bay Plantation, now called a resort.
Rockefeller kept ownership of Caneel Bay, with the proceeds going to the Jackson Hole Preserve, until he deeded it to the park in 1983. In 1986, he sold the resort.
Rockefeller also spread his good work to the British Virgin Islands. In 1964, he donated 92 acres on Tortola's Sage Mountain for the territory's first park. And in the same year, he opened Little Dix Bay on Virgin Gorda with Queen Elizabeth II in attendance. He subsequently donated more land to create other territorial parks.
The BVI awarded him BVI citizenship in 2003.
In 1969, he received the Congressional Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, from President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Rockefeller was the grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, who developed the family's philanthropic tradition. Forbes Magazine in 2003 listed his net worth as $1.5 billion.
Four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren survive him. His wife Mary died in 1997. One brother, David, also survives Rockefeller.
Back Talk

Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. John Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice… click here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here