Win Rockefeller, 57; Billionaire Rancher, Lt. Gov. of Arkansas

Times Staff Writer

Arkansas Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, a reserved billionaire rancher who was more likely to sport a Timex watch and decorate his state office in castoffs than advertise his status as heir to an empire that fueled the Industrial Age in late 19th century America, has died. He was 57.

Rockefeller died Sunday at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences medical center in Little Rock, Ark., after unsuccessful treatments for a blood disorder, said Steve Brawner, the lieutenant governor’s spokesman.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. Aug. 4, 2006 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday August 04, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Rockefeller obituary: The obituary of Win Rockefeller, a billionaire rancher and the lieutenant governor of Arkansas, that ran in the July 17 California section incorrectly gave his widow’s name as Lisette. It is Lisenne.

On July 8, Rockefeller had returned to Arkansas from Seattle after two bone marrow transplants since October failed to cure an unclassified myeloproliferative disorder, a blood condition that can lead to leukemia. His illness forced him to abandon his race last year for governor.

“Win Rockefeller embodied the ideals of compassion, generosity and humility. He was a wealthy man, but his real wealth was not his money, but his heart for serving others,” Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said in a statement. He returned to Little Rock early from the Southern Governors’ Assn. meeting in New Orleans.

Last year, Rockefeller was ranked No. 283 on Forbes magazine’s list of the nation’s wealthiest people, with a fortune estimated at $1.2 billion. The great-grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, he gave his $35,000-a-year lieutenant governor’s salary to charity.


He was the son of Winthrop Rockefeller, governor of Arkansas from 1967 to 1971 and the state’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction. The senior Rockefeller’s tenure is generally regarded as a watershed moment for the state because he broadened the agriculture-based economy by luring other industries to Arkansas and made efforts to improve schools and race relations.

When his father died at 60 of cancer in 1973, Win Rockefeller was 24. He became the first of “the Cousins,” as the third generation of Rockefellers is called, to come into his inheritance. U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) is a cousin.

For advice, Win, who was then a young rancher, turned to his uncle Nelson Rockefeller, the former New York governor who served as vice president under President Ford. Win Rockefeller considered becoming a state trooper, but poor eyesight and advice from his uncle stopped him.

“He said, ‘Win, you’ve got a lot bigger things you need to focus on,’ ” Rockefeller told the Memphis Commercial Appeal in 1997.

Within a month, he took over his father’s active interest in the Republican Party of Arkansas. He also became involved in banking, retailing, automobile dealerships and resorts.

An Oxford University dropout, Rockefeller enrolled at Texas Christian University and earned a degree in ranch management to prepare himself to run Winrock Farms, which his father established in 1953 atop an Arkansas mountain. Today, it includes a 7,000-acre cattle ranch and 17,000 acres on which Rockefeller raised rice, soybeans and wheat.

With his famous name, and wealth, came an “obligation to do some good,” Rockefeller said.

Running for office was the next step. During a special election in 1996, he was elected lieutenant governor to complete the unexpired term of Huckabee, who became governor in July 1996 after Jim Guy Tucker was convicted as part of the investigation of corruption called Whitewater that included Bill and Hillary Clinton.

Rockefeller was reelected in 1998 and 2002. His final term was due to end in January. Under the Arkansas Constitution, Huckabee does not have the authority to name a replacement, so Senate President Jim Argue (D-Little Rock) will direct state government when Huckabee is out of the state.

Winthrop Paul Rockefeller was born in New York on Sept. 17, 1948, within a year of his father marrying Barbara “Bobo” Sears, the daughter of an immigrant coal miner. As a boy, he was called Win Paul, although the nickname made him wince as a grown-up.

The couple soon separated, and Rockefeller spent his preschool years on a 96-acre farm that belonged to his mother’s immigrant parents in Indiana. He learned to speak Lithuanian before he spoke English.

“It was a wonderful life, a middle-American-kid-on-the-farm-type life,” he told the Dallas Morning News in 1998. “Dairy cows and chickens. Those are my earliest memories, and they are very warm.”

He began learning about his Rockefeller heritage when he enrolled in elementary school in New York.

“There was a peer resentment,” Rockefeller said. “There were a number of black eyes. The great part of the challenge at that time was trying to figure out who or what being a Rockefeller meant.”

After graduating from European boarding schools, he worked as a ranch hand at Winrock. According to family legend, his father ended up in Arkansas after a World War II Army buddy invited him to visit.

While attending Oxford, Rockefeller met his first wife, Deborah Cluett Sage, a descendant of a British industrialist. Married in 1973, they had three children and divorced about six years later.

With his second wife, Lisette, Rockefeller had homes at Winrock Farms and in Little Rock. They had five children, including one son and an adopted daughter who have Down syndrome. In 2000, he and his wife founded a Little Rock school for children with learning disabilities.

One of his proudest civic accomplishments involved bringing diversity to the council that governed the Little Rock Boy Scouts. In the late 1990s, he was working on his Wood Badge, which he described as “a kind of PhD” for Scout leaders.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by five sons; three daughters; his mother, Barbara; a granddaughter; a stepbrother; and a stepsister.

Funeral arrangements are pending.