A doctor and philanthropist from Falmouth who was a member of the Rockefeller family died Friday when the small plane he was piloting crashed shortly after takeoff in New York.
Richard Rockefeller, who owned the single-engine plane, died when it crashed shortly after 8 a.m. near the Westchester County Airport.
Rockefeller, 65, was a grandson of John D. Rockefeller Jr., who developed Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, and a son of David Rockefeller Sr., who was CEO and chairman of Chase National Bank until his retirement in 1981.
He was a nephew of Nelson A. Rockefeller, who was the 41st vice president of the United States and the governor of New York from 1959 to 1973.
“The family is in shock. This was a terrible tragedy,” family spokesman Fraser Seitel told the Portland Press Herald. “He was an experienced pilot and a respected medical doctor, who most recently was working on treating (post-traumatic stress disorder) in veterans. And it’s just horribly sad.”
Seitel said Rockefeller, the father of two, went to Westchester County on Thursday for a family gathering. “He had dinner last night with his father, David Rockefeller, who was celebrating his 99th birthday.”
David Rockefeller is the oldest living member of the Rockefeller family, which amassed one of the world’s largest fortunes with its control of Standard Oil in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The family is also associated closely with Chase Bank.
An airport official said the plane crashed near the State University of New York’s Purchase College soon after takeoff en route to Portland, where it was based. The weather was foggy, with visibility of less than a mile.
According to Federal Aviation Administration records, Richard Rockefeller was issued his pilot’s license on May 6, 2010, with the condition that he wear corrective lenses for distance vision and glasses for near vision.
His license rating was “private pilot airplane single engine land instrument airplane.” That means Rockefeller was qualified to operate an aircraft in low visibility, said Steven Meyers, president of Aviation Safety Experts, based in Bolingbrook, Illinois.
Rockefeller was flying a Piper Meridian single-engine turboprop, tail number N5335R, built in 2001. It’s a niche aircraft that has a good safety record, said Rick Lanman, manager of the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport.
“It’s a good airplane. Normally, it’s a safe airplane,” Lanman said.
Officials from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.
Rockefeller was involved with the Maine Coast Heritage Trust for about 40 years, and was a former chairman, said Tim Glidden, the group’s president.
“Richard was a giant in the conservation of Maine. His whole life was devoted to conservation in Maine,” Glidden said. “He found inspiration in the coast of Maine and substance in the coast of Maine, and renewal. Because of him, many generations will be able to enjoy Maine’s coast for years to come.”
U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine issued a written statement remembering Rockefeller, saying, “Richard was an accomplished doctor, a respected member of the community and someone who was deeply dedicated to improving the world he lived in. His recent work on treatment for veterans who suffer from PTSD is just one example of his commitment to giving back to the community.”
U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of Maine also released a written statement, praising Rockefeller’s efforts to improve health care in the U.S. and around the globe, and his contributions to environmental conservation.
“I am shocked and saddened over Richard Rockefeller’s sudden passing. This is a tragic loss for the Falmouth community and for our entire state,” Michaud said. “Maine is better off because of Richard’s commitment to making it a better place to live.”
Rockefeller practiced family medicine in Portland from 1982 until 2000. He had an undergraduate degree from Harvard College, a master’s degree in education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.
He chaired the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and founded and served as president of the Health Commons Institute, a nonprofit aimed at improving computer information systems for doctors and patients. He also chaired the U.S. advisory board of Doctors Without Borders and was on the boards of the Maine Coast Heritage Trust, Rockefeller University, the Portland Art Museum and Time Banks USA.
Doctors Without Borders said in a written statement that Rockefeller’s philanthropic network, passion and field assignments in South America, Africa and Southeast Asia were “instrumental” in the program’s founding. In 1989, he and his father helped the group establish its roots in the U.S.
Dr. Susan Shepherd, a pediatrician in New York, said she spent several weeks with Rockefeller in Niger, where Shepherd was helping to establish Doctors Without Borders’ effort to combat malnutrition. She said Rockefeller was concerned about how doctors were able to work in the field.
“He was always very eager to stay in touch with what it means to deliver medical care in these challenging situations,” she said.
Beyond that, Shepherd said, Rockefeller thought about the bigger picture, from improving the training of other health care providers to expanding access to health care.
“I was just a pediatrician from Butte, Montana, and he helped me see all the different ways that people can be a doctor and how taking care of kids and helping young doctors become better clinicians are among the even bigger and better longer-range goals you can have,” she said. “He was trying to make the system work better.
“Regardless of what his last name was, he was an authentic and genuine guy who tried to inspire others and, with me, he did just that,” Shepherd said.
Rockefeller also was the founder and former chairman of Hour Exchange Portland, in which residents can barter services.
He is survived by his wife, Nancy King Rockefeller; two children, Clayton and Rebecca, from his first marriage, to Nancy Anderson; two stepsons, Maxwell and Griffin King Miller; and three grandchildren.
Staff Writers Chelsea Diana and Edward D. Murphy and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Correction: This story was updates at 9:20 a.m. on June 14, 2014 to correct the name of the Rockefeller family spokesman.