Eileen Rockefeller Finding Her Stride

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PHOTOS BY EQLiving Magazine

The great-granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller learned in childhood that while wealth and fame could open any door, they could not buy a feeling of personal worth. She earned that herself.

Fine horse breeders denote legacy by incorporating an exceptional sire’s name into that of its progeny.  Pedigree, among horsemen, is a source of pride in bloodstock.  And in family.

Taking the reins to her own identity as an author, venture philanthropist, and Morgan enthusiast, Eileen Rockefeller Growald—the great-granddaughter of Standard Oil founder and first American billionaire, John D. Rockefeller Sr.; granddaughter of philanthropist John D., Rockefeller Jr.; niece of New York State Governor and U.S. Vice President, Nelson Rockefeller; and sixth and youngest child of Chase Manhattan Bank CEO and Museum of Modern Art patron, David, and wife Peggy Rockefeller—has learned to harness her own legendary lineage into a driving force for emotional and environmental good.

“In assuming the mantle of Rockefeller,” Eileen told The Daily Beast last September, “I felt subsumed by the enormity of accomplishment that had gone before me.” One of the fourth-generation Rockefellers colloquially known as “the cousins,” she has become the first female to write about growing up within a family circle of unparalleled wealth and privilege.

Her new 336-page autobiography, Being a Rockefeller, Becoming Myself, tells a journey of self-actualization in a voice centered in appreciation for simple treasures over vast fortunes: family, nature, and devotion to animals.

Twenty years ago, Eileen, her husband and soul mate, Paul Growald, and their sons, Adam and Danny, eschewed the cosmopolitan fast lane, relocating to a farm in Shelburne, Vt., where they have been a formidable voice for agricultural awareness and environmental protection.  “I’ve always sought nurture in nature.

Vermont has so much natural beauty,” Eileen says. “It provides balance to my life of chosen responsibilities.” Serving as its first director of development and an early supporter of its sustainable farming programs, Eileen is also honorary director of the 1,400-acre working farm, former Vanderbilt estate, and National Landmark, Shelburne Farm.

Morgans are intrinsic to the Rockefeller legacy. (Download pdf of The Rockefeller Morgans, by Sue Greenall) Coincidentally, the family patriarch’s second cousin, Chauncy Stillman, founded the American Morgan Horse Association. Eileen’s grandfather, John D. Jr., took pride in his driving teams and inspiration from the natural vistas his carriage drives provided, leading to the purchase and donation of land that composes many of today’s greatest national parks, including Grand Teton, Yellowstone, and Maine’s Mount Desert Island (Acadia National Park), where the avid reinsman underwrote and engineered a 50-mile network of carriage-travel graded roads still used today. The boulders, or coping stones, edging its routes are known locally as “Rockefeller’s Teeth.”

In a 2009 interview with The Morgan Horse titled “The Rockefeller Morgans,” her father, David, said, “We always had Morgans. My father (John D. Jr.) became interested in the breed as driving horses. We kept that tradition.” David is now 98 years young and has 6 Morgans and 30 carriages. He tries to make time to drive his horses daily. Eileen and her siblings attribute their father’s daily drives with preserving his vigor. “It is the best of things for him to do,” she says. “It has kept him young.”

Her mother, Peggy, passed in 1996, but not before sharing her love for Morgans and nature and organizing invitational drives at the family’s estate in New York’s Westchester County. David had a carriage trail, Peggy’s Way, named in her honor, and Rockefeller State Park Preserve’s century-old network of driving roads, designed by John D. Sr., and John D. Jr., still complement the natural landscape the family loved, and showcase such historic attributes as the first triple-arch bridge in America.

Eileen too has found her place in the Morgan world. Eileen’s late mare, DKS Malachy, gave birth to a daughter, Meg, in 2001, (sired by her father David’s favorite stallion, Saddleback Sea King) and a gelding, Lucky Gem, in 2005 (by Longview Sundance.) Eileen has raised both half-siblings since their birth, to ride and drive. She won the half-mile trotting race at the Vermont Morgan Horse Association Heritage Days Morgan Show and rode Meg and Malachy in the Morgan Mile trotting races at Brookfield, Vt., where the breed’s foundation sire, Figure, once competed. “It was our first show ever,” she remembers. “When Malachy won the Royalton Ashline Perpetual Trophy, it was a huge thrill.”

Personally, Eileen has hit her stride as a pioneer championing health and emotional issues. “I found my purpose as a catalyst and connector of people and ideas,” she says.

In 1982, she founded the Institute for the Advancement of Health, which led scientific understanding of the mind-body connection in health and evolved into what is now called Emotional Intelligence. She co-founded The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, co-chairs her family’s generational association, and is founding chair of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (the largest advisory service of its kind) and The Growald Family Fund.

Last winter, as the Chinese year of the horse was beginning, she shared on her blog, EileenRockeller.com, “I have the great privilege of having raised and trained two Morgans to ride and drive. In the winter, I take them out with my sleigh, complete with bells around their necks. Before cars, people in northern climates transported themselves in winter by sleigh. They put bells on to be heard when driving in the dark. Each horse and owner manifested their own sound.”