- Historic Sites
A Postscript By Allan Nevins
April 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 3
As this is a selection from a much longer autobiography, still in manuscript, a word remains to be said about some of Frederick T. Gates’s associates.
He never faltered in his devotion to John D. Rockefeller, whose gifts complemented his own. Gates was emotional, oratorical, impetuous, and (as he himself wrote) “withal exacting and irritable.” Rockefeller was unemotional, highly reserved, generally taciturn (though with a fund, on occasion, of chat and anecdote), and cautious. As Mr. Raymond B. Fosdick, who knew Gates well, says in his volume on the Rockefeller Foundation, he was “overwhelming and sometimes overbearing in argument”; Rockefeller never lost his measured calm, and was never seen by anyone to show excitement. Gates was often impatient, Rockefeller always the soul of patience. It was probably with some envy that Gates said of Rockefeller, in a sentence quoted by Mr. Fosdick: “If he was very nice and precise in his choice of words, he was also nice and accurate in his choice of silences.” Yet both were adventurers—Rockefeller a pioneer in the planning and organization of business, Gates a pioneer in social experiment.
It is recorded that Gates used to exhort the elder Rockefeller: “Your fortune is rolling up, rolling up like an avalanche! You must keep up with it! You must distribute it faster than it grows! If you do not, it will crush you and your children and your children’s children.” Evangelistic exhortation was second nature to Gates. Yet he knew well that such an exhortation was hardly needed. Rockefeller had begun giving as a very poor boy when it hurt to give; he had kept on giving as his fortune grew. What he needed most were ideas as to the wisest mode of giving. These Gates contributed. It is worth repeating his statement that he felt Rockefeller was entitled to his frankest ideas most candidly expressed. “I did not consciously allow his anticipated views to control or to modify my own views in the least degree. On the contrary, when I knew there would be a conflict of view I took special pains to fortify my position instead of yielding it or concealing it.”
Rockefeller, who was ever sparing with praise, more than once paid public tribute to Gates’s extraordinary talents. One day in 1917, when he was riding with a reporter for Forbes Magazine, the Forbes man asked: “Who is the greatest of all the businessmen you have known?” Rockefeller gave him no direct answer but finally began talking of Gates, saying: “He combines business skill and philanthropic attitude to a higher degree than any other man I have ever known.”
When Gates finally left Rockefeller’s service he received this letter:
Forest Hill,July 25th, 1913.
Dear Mr. Gates:
I am grateful for all you have done, in connection with our organizations to continue helpful and uplifting influence to the world, after we have all passed on. You have been so thoroughly devoted to the various schemes for advancing the interests of our fellow men, and so resourceful in organizing plans to carry out the work, that your name will be forever inseparably linked with them all. There was a Providence in our coming together, long years ago, and we saw “eye to eye.” The work grew upon our hands and we are made happy in these years on account of what has already been accomplished for good, in connection with these united efforts. I hope we will both be spared, and our dear ones, to see many years of blessing to the world.
Mrs. Rockefeller and Miss Spelman unite with me in warm regards for you and yours,
Sincerely,( Signed ) John D. Rockefeller