"He told us, 'My name is Rockefeller, but that will not pay our bills,'" Rahall recalled. "He gave us more than his family name. He pledged his heart, mind and strength to us that day. For almost half a century, Sen. Rockefeller's service to his state and its families has never wavered from that commitment."
The great-grandson of famed industrialist John D. Rockefeller first arrived in West Virginia as a volunteer with the VISTA national service program in 1964. Within two years, he had won election to the Legislature, and then as secretary of state in 1968. After a failed run for governor in 1972 and four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Rockefeller won his first term as governor.
Toward the end of his second term, he narrowly captured the U.S. Senate seat of a retiring Jennings Randolph in 1984. He won by comfortable margins in each of his five terms.
Rockefeller hails from a family of many achievers: In addition to the successes of his oil billionaire great-grandfather, two uncles, Nelson Rockefeller and Winthrop Rockefeller, served as governors of New York and Arkansas, respectively. Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller III, was a well-known philanthropist and founded the Asia Society, while his uncle David Rockefeller ran Chase Manhattan Bank.
"West Virginia has become my life and my cause," Rockefeller said. "I never, ever doubt what it is I'm trying to do. West Virginia provides that to me in the form of fantastically hard-working, tough, warm-hearted people."
Rockefeller became the state's senior senator upon the 2010 death of Robert C. Byrd, a fellow Democrat and the longest-serving member of Congress. In his remaining time in office, he said, he plans to focus now on the fight over federal spending, taxes, the debt limit and the future of Medicaid.
Rockefeller was to be joined during Friday's formal announcement by his wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and other family members. The couple have four children and six grandchildren. Sharon Rockefeller was successfully treated for colorectal cancer after a 2005 diagnosis, and the senator has more recently endured torn tendons in his left knee.
"I will spend the next couple of years thinking of what I can do to continue to fight for the causes I believe in," Rockefeller said. "I will not be leaving West Virginia. West Virginia will always be my home."
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