On Monday, August 14, 2017 we celebrated the life of David Rockefeller here at College of the Atlantic. Six hundred of Mr. Rockefeller’s friends and family gathered under the tent — the same tent and same spot we use at graduation. Speakers included David MacDonald of Friends of Acadia, Senator George Mitchell, Rodney Eason of the Land and Garden Preserve, and two of David’s daughters — Neva and Eileen. Music interludes included a Chopin piece by COA Trustee Emeritus Bill Foulke and the Ave Maria, performed by David’s granddaughter Rebecca Lambert. We closed the ceremony with 600 voices singing Handel’s Hallelujah chorus! I had the opportunity to open the ceremony with the following words:
Welcome. My name is Darron Collins. I’m the president and an alumnus of College of the Atlantic. It is an honor to help celebrate and memorialize the life of David Rockefeller.
This afternoon I want to emphasize Mr. Rockefeller’s role as a leader of three kinds of families – families beyond the biological, which is well represented under the tent with children David, Jr., Abby, Neva, Peggy and Eileen as well as grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews.
First, David Rockefeller was keeper of an extraordinary family of friends, as is evidenced here, a gathering of one thousand, a number we could have easily doubled had we a bigger lawn and a bigger tent. More important than quantity, his circle of friends ranged from the world’s kings and queens and brokers of power and prestige, to the unknown and the unnamed.
I learned the egalitarian nature of his friendship in August 2011. I hadn’t been in the role of president for more than a few weeks. I was at one of the many summer events getting to know the MDI community and down the drive came that beautiful, white Cadillac. I pulled myself together and joined the throng of people who surrounded Mr. Rockefeller as he emerged from the car. We wouldn’t even let the poor man grab a drink; but he wasn’t flustered or frustrated, he engaged in thoughtful, sincere discussion with everyone who held out a hand. He knew names and asked questions. He didn’t look over the shoulder to see who was next or more interesting. “Mr. Rockefeller,” I said, “I’m the new president of COA and I just wanted to…”
“Hello Darron,” he said, “it’s great to meet you and I’m excited to see COA has an alumnus at the helm.”
I don’t think the conversation went far beyond that because I was stunned speechless. But at that moment I was a new member of David Rockefeller’s family of friends and nothing could have had a stronger welcoming effect than Mr. Rockefeller’s handshake.
Mr. Rockefeller was also an advisor and supporter to a great family of institutions. His philanthropy was generous and transformational. I could never give these words today and not thank him for taking a philanthropic risk on a small, new, unaccredited college that, although founded by a Harvard man, looked nothing like his own alma mater. His early philanthropic investments in College of the Atlantic gave this institution immediate credibility and an immediate jolt of confidence, just like our handshake.
I witnessed this institutional fatherhood on August 14, 2013, four years ago to this very day. The Rockefeller family had given COA the Peggy Rockefeller Farms in 2010 and we wanted to show the family some of the early returns on their investment. We gathered in the barn with D-R, five of his six children, our farm manager, and a group of students. It was the hottest day of the year and this was a working barn, full of the most pungent of farm smells and thick with flies. Brian Lindquist pulled me aside and said, “Hey, don’t take it the wrong way if David spends just a few minutes here and then moves on.”
But David sat down on a hay bale for an hour and a half. Yes, he had incredible stamina, but he wasn’t suffering through anything; he was completely engaged and hung on every word of every student as they walked through the details of their research on the farm. Again, never a sense of looking beyond the shoulder to what was next on his schedule; only complete commitment to the moment, to the individual, and to the institution in question.
Lastly, David Rockefeller was guardian and protector to something larger than any individual or institution, something of a father to a family of insects – actually, an entire order of animals called Coleoptera: the beetles. Friends have told me that on trips to Africa, while others scoured the savanna for lions and other charismatic megafauna, D-R asked guides to put him on Colophon primosi or Macropsebium cotterilli.
Mr. Rockefeller collected more than 90,000 specimens*, but, more important than quantity, his passion for beetles offers a window into his world and the qualities he found curious.
Beetles evolved 300 million years ago, they occupy just about every ecological niche on the planet, and their diversity and numbers are staggering: one of every four species of animal alive on the planet today is a beetle.
In beetles I think he found intrigue in what was truly important, what was fundamentally important; I suspect he found beauty beyond the obvious and in the diverse; he appreciated overlooked detail and knew that the more you look, the more you see. In D-R’s collection of beetles, I believe we find a man who is a father to ideas, to big ideas, namely those that try to answer or understand what it means to be human on this planet.
All of us gathered here today have been embraced by a nurturer of friends, a champion of institutions, and as a curator of ideas. As his MDI family, we are saddened by his passing. But the gifts David Rockefeller has given us as make us more whole and more able to navigate the turbulent times we currently find ourselves in. Thank you.
* I pulled this from a 2009 source. His collection had since grown to something closer to 150,000!