Happy Rockefeller

Happy Rockefeller
Happy Rockefeller
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
Personal details
Born June 9, 1926 (1926-06-09) (age 85)
Spouse(s) Dr. James Slater Murphy (m. 1945-1963)
Nelson Rockefeller (m. 1963-1979)
Children James B. Murphy 2nd
Margretta Harrison Murphy
Carol Slater Murphy
Malinda Fitler Murphy
Mark Rockefeller
Nelson Rockefeller, Jr.

Margaretta Large Fitler Murphy Rockefeller (born June 9, 1926), known as Happy Rockefeller, is the widow of Nelson Aldrich Rockefeller (1908–1979), who was the 41st Vice President of the United States of America and a Governor of New York. She was the Second Lady of the United States from 1974–1977.


Childhood and family

A daughter of Margaretta Large Harrison and her first husband, William Wonderly Fitler, Jr., an heir to a cordage fortune, Rockefeller is known by her nickname, "Happy", given to her for her childhood disposition. She is a great-great-granddaughter of Union general George Gordon Meade, the commander at the Battle of Gettysburg.


Her first husband, from December 11, 1945 until their divorce on April 1, 1963, was Dr. James Slater Murphy, a virologist associated with Rockefeller Institute who was a close friend of Nelson Rockefeller. They had four children: James B. Murphy 2nd, Margaretta Harrison Murphy, Carol Slater Murphy, and Malinda Fitler Murphy (1960-2005), who married Francis Menotti, the adopted son of composer Gian Carlo Menotti.

At the home of Laurance S. Rockefeller in Pocantico Hills, New York, on May 4, 1963, a month after her divorce—which was granted for reasons of what The New York Times called "grievous mental anguish" and her former husband's lawyer called "irreconcilable differences"—she married Gov. Nelson Rockefeller. She previously had worked as a member of his office staff until her resignation in 1961. He had divorced his first wife, Mary Todhunter Clark, on March 16, 1962. Happy and Nelson Rockefeller had two sons: Nelson Rockefeller, Jr. (born 1964) and Mark Rockefeller (born 1967).

Happy Murphy's involvement 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."[1] More damaging still was the political fallout. 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."[2]

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.


She is a breast cancer survivor, having undergone a mastectomy in 1974, two weeks after Betty Ford underwent the same operation.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Nan C. Robertson, "Nickname 'Happy' Well-Fitted to Cheerful Mrs. Rockefeller", The New York Times, 5 May 1963, p. 72
  2. ^ "Many in G.O.P. Say Marriage Will Hurt Rockefeller in 1964", The New York Times, 3 May 1963, p. 17.
  3. ^ "Breast Cancer: Fears and Facts", Time magazine, 4 November 1974
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Vacant, eventually 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

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