Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller, an unassuming billionaire who inherited his father's philanthropic spirit and hoped to serve as Arkansas governor as his father did, died Sunday after unsuccessful treatments for a blood disorder. He was 57.
Rockefeller abandoned his gubernatorial campaign after being diagnosed last July with an unclassified myeloproliferative disorder that can lead to leukemia. Two bone marrow transplants failed to cure the illness.
"Win could have lived anywhere and done anything, but he chose to give himself to the state both as a public servant and as a philanthropist," said state Senate President Jim Argue, D-Little Rock.
Rockefeller, a Republican, was the son of Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, who was elected to two-year terms in 1966 and 1968. His father died in 1973 at the age of 60 of cancer. Rockefeller, who was 24 when his father died, recalled the event as "traumatic" and said he began then to search for his place in life.
He took over Winrock Farms Inc., which his father founded in Arkansas in 1953, and became involved in banking, retailing, automobile dealerships and resorts. Long before holding an elective office, Rockefeller was active in public causes and held posts on the Arkansas State Police Commission and the national Council on Rural America.
The great-grandson of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller ranked No. 283 on the Forbes magazine list of the nation's wealthiest people in 2005, with a fortune the magazine estimated at $1.2 billion. As lieutenant governor, a part-time job, he gave his $34,673 state salary to charity.
When he announced his candidacy for governor last year, he said he wouldn't rely on his fortune alone to purchase the office.
"I don't think the governor's office is there to be bought by anybody. Nobody is ordained or destined to be governor. A person has to earn the right to serve," he said in February 2005.
Five months later, he was out of the race. Bone-marrow transplants Oct. 7 and March 29 at Seattle's Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center failed to cure his illness and when he returned to Arkansas July 8 he immediately entered the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
On July 9, he notified Huckabee that he could not continue in his duties, at least temporarily. On Sunday, he died at UAMS with his family present, spokesman Steve Brawner said.
Huckabee, who returned early from a Southern Governors Association meeting at New Orleans, said, "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."
Rockefeller's cousin Jay, a Democratic U.S. senator from West Virginia, said that while the family was prepared, "that doesn't make it any less painful."
"This is a terribly sad day for me personally and for our entire family. Win Rockefeller was a warm human being who, like his father, committed his life to public service. He always had the best interests of the people of Arkansas at heart," he said.
Rockefeller entered politics in 1996, winning a special election for lieutenant governor to replace Huckabee, who became governor. Huckabee had ascended to the governor's office after Whitewater prosecutors obtained a conviction of then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker in a fraud case.
Rockefeller subsequently won re-election twice, winning 67 percent of the vote in 1998 and 60 percent in 2002.
As lieutenant governor, Rockefeller presided over the Arkansas Senate and served as governor when Huckabee was out of the state. On his own, he also served as an economic cheerleader for the state, traveling at his own expense to seek foreign investments here.
Under the state's term-limits law, Rockefeller could not serve again as lieutenant governor. He announced his candidacy for governor last year, but withdrew last July 19 after being diagnosed with the blood disorder.
If Huckabee chooses to replace Rockefeller, he must call a special election. If the post isn't filled, Argue will serve as governor when Huckabee is out of state.
In 1997 Rockefeller created the Books in the Attic program, in which Boy Scouts collect used books to distribute to families. With two children with Down syndrome, Rockefeller and his second wife Lisenne also started what is now the Academy at Riverdale, a school for children with learning disabilities.
He also served on the Boy Scouts' national board of directors and was on the boards of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center and the Arkansas Arts Center Foundation.
Born Winthrop Paul Rockefeller on Sept. 17, 1948, in New York, he was the only child of the late Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller and Barbara "Bobo" Sears. An uncle was former vice president Nelson Rockefeller.
Survivors include his second wife, his mother, three daughters, five sons, a granddaughter, a step brother and a step sister.