Happy Rockefeller

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Happy Rockefeller
Happy Rockefeller 1973.JPG
Margaretta "Happy" Rockefeller in 1973
Second Lady of the United States
In office
December 19, 1974 – January 20, 1977
Preceded by Betty Ford
Succeeded by Joan Mondale
First Lady of New York
In office
May 4, 1963 – December 18, 1973
Preceded by Mary Rockefeller
Succeeded by Katherine Wilson
Personal details
Born Margaretta Large Fitler
(1926-06-09)June 9, 1926
Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania
Died May 19, 2015(2015-05-19) (aged 88)
Pocantico Hills, New York
Spouse(s) Dr. James Slater Murphy (m. 1945–63)
Nelson Rockefeller (m. 1963–79; his death)
Children James B. Murphy 2nd
Margretta Harrison Murphy
Carol Slater Murphy
Malinda Fitler Murphy
Mark Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller Jr.

Margaretta Large Fitler Murphy "Happy" Rockefeller (June 9, 1926 – May 19, 2015) was a philanthropist and the second wife of former Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908–1979). She was First Lady of New York from her marriage to then-Governor Rockefeller in 1963 until he left office in 1973, and Second Lady of the United States from her husband's swearing in as Vice President on December 19, 1974 until his term ended on January 20, 1977.

Childhood and family

Margaretta Large Fitler was born at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1926.[1][2] Her parents were Margaretta Large Harrison and William Wonderly Fitler Jr., an heir to a cordage fortune. (Later her mother would marry again.) The younger Margaretta was known by her nickname, "Happy", given to her for her childhood disposition. She was a great-great-granddaughter of Union general George Gordon Meade, the commander at the Battle of Gettysburg, and his wife Margaretta Sergeant, daughter of politician John Sergeant.


On December 11, 1949, she married James Slater Murphy, a virologist associated with the Rockefeller Institute and a close friend of Nelson Rockefeller's. They had four children: James B. Murphy, II, Margaretta Harrison Murphy, Carol Slater Murphy, and Malinda Fitler Murphy (1960-2005). The youngest daughter married Francis Menotti, the adopted son of composer Gian Carlo Menotti.

Happy and her husband divorced on April 1, 1963, for reasons The New York Times called "grievous mental anguish" and her former husband's lawyer classified as "irreconcilable differences". One month later – on May 4, 1963 – at the home of Laurance S. Rockefeller in Pocantico Hills, New York, Happy married Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had taken office in 1959 and was eighteen years her senior. She had worked as a member of his office staff until her resignation in 1961. Nelson divorced his first wife, Mary Todhunter Clark, on March 16, 1962. Happy and Nelson Rockefeller had two sons together: Nelson Rockefeller, Jr. (born 1964), and Mark Rockefeller (born 1967).

Happy Murphy's relationship with Gov. Rockefeller was controversial at the time. As the British journalist Lady Jeanne Campbell wrote in the London Evening Standard, when the Murphy-Rockefeller involvement became a subject of media scrutiny after the announcement of Rockefeller's filing for divorce from his first wife and Happy Murphy's resignation from his staff, "Already people are comparing Happy Murphy to the Duchess of Windsor when she was plain Mrs. Simpson."[3] More damaging still was the political fallout for Rockefeller. Echoing the party-wide concerns, an official of the Michigan Republican Party told The New York Times that the couple's potential marriage likely would cost Rockefeller the 1964 presidential nomination. "The rapidity of it all—he gets a divorce, she gets a divorce—and the indication of the break-up of two homes. Our country doesn't like broken homes."[4]

Despite some people's disapproval, Rockefeller was re-elected as governor twice more and served until 1973, when he resigned. Unsuccessful in gaining the party's presidential nomination, he was appointed Vice President of the United States by President Gerald Ford, after Richard Nixon resigned, and served from 1974 to 1977.

Philanthropy and political life

Happy Rockefeller served as the chairman of the board for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in 1971. She was appointed as a public delegate to the United Nations by President George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Health and death

She was a breast cancer survivor, having undergone a double mastectomy in 1974, two weeks after Betty Ford, then First Lady of the United States, underwent the same surgery.[5] Happy Rockefeller died following a short illness on May 19, 2015, at the age of 88.[2]

See also


  1. The Lewiston Daily Sun - Google News Archive Search
  2. 2.0 2.1 Happy Rockefeller, Whose Marriage to Governor Scandalized Voters, Dies at 88
  3. Nan C. Robertson, "Nickname 'Happy' Well-Fitted to Cheerful Mrs. Rockefeller", The New York Times, 5 May 1963, p. 72
  4. "Many in G.O.P. Say Marriage Will Hurt Rockefeller in 1964", The New York Times, 3 May 1963, p. 17.
  5. "Breast Cancer: Fears and Facts", Time magazine, 4 November 1974
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Mary Rockefeller
First Lady of New York
Succeeded by
Katherine Wilson
Preceded by
Betty Ford
Second Lady of the United States
Succeeded by
Joan Mondale