Do not adjust your hat under a plum tree or tie your shoes in a melon field if you wish to avoid suspicion .
old Chinese proverb
NEVER BIGGER than at the moment of death, so greedy for life that he managed to snatch an extra 60 minutes posthumously, Nelson Rockefeller left one last legacy which sould cause millions of Americans to curse his name. He managed to bring the time-honored ritual of "working late at the office" into disrepute. How many wives, watching the breadwinner bounce off into the night after dinner, won't conjecture that there is a 25-year-old in a long black dress waiting at the other end?
"It should be remembered," wrote James Reston in his Sunday column, "that Nelson Rockefeller died at his desk late on a Friday night after almost everybody had gone home for the weekend. He was a worker, a yearner, and a builder to the end." As sometimes happens with graceful tributes, his had an odd ring in the light of subsequent revelations. When did he yearn and what did he yearn for? Copious in all things, Nelson in the end produced a 60-minute gap where Nixon could only manage 18 1/2.
Nothing was more seemly than the accounts in Saturday morning's newspapers. In these first reports Hugh Morrow, longtime Rockefeller family spokesman, announced in "slow, solemn tones" that Rockefeller, 70, had been stricken at 10:15 Friday night. He had been at his desk in his office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, toiling on a book about modern art. It was there that he had his heart seizure and it was there that the only other person present -- a security aide -- tried to revive him. "Shortly after 11 p.m., "according to The New York Times, paramedics arrived and attempted resuscitation. Rockefeller was admitted to Lenox Hill Hospital at 11:15 and was pronounced dead soon after. Mrs. Rockefeller arrived at 12:25 a.m.
Intial accounts described Rockefeller's passing as one of the most uplifting since the death of Socrates, and the Daily News seemed quite prepared in its Sunday coverage to let Nelson thus die in unquestioned dignity. No such overdeveloped spirit of prudence and good taste infected the Times. Its excellent coverage on Sunday and Monday produced so many lines to read between that at times the narrative looked like a financial statement by Bert Lance.
Readers of Sunday's Times found the venue of death shifted, the participants increased in number and multiplied in sex, the times clarified. Rockefeller had been stricken, it turned out, at 13 West 54th St., a brownstone in which he maintained offices.
Morrow was first quoted as saying that only Andrew Hoffman, a security aide, had been present. Later on Saturday, Morrow was amending this to a "personal security guard and chauffeur." Alas, this guest list proved no more reliable than Morrow's initial version of where Rockefeller had died. Police officers Anthony Graffeo and George Frangos said that when they arrived shortly after the first emergency call at 11:16 those present in the first-floor living room of the brown-stone were the trusty Hoffman and Megan Marshack, then described as a 31-year-old former Associated Press radio news reporter, who worked as a research assistant to Rockefeller on various art projects.
The first emergency call came about 60 minutes after the fatal seizure. The Times said chastely that "it was not explained why almost an hour had elapsed before emergency units were called." The call, said Morrow, had been placed by an "unidentified female neighbor." Marshack, stated the Times, lives at 25 West 54th St. She "could not be reached."
THE TIMES, having enlivened every Sunday brunch in the city, had the full revised version on Monday. The New York Post had an AP picture of Marshack. She remained unavailable for comment, away for the weekend and generally absent for her account of Rockefeller's death. About the only facts available were the nature of her working vestments on Friday night and the news that she had joined Rockefeller's staff as assistant press secretary when he had been in Washington as vice president.
In the ur-version Nelson's passing had been a remarkably leisurely affair. He'd got to the 54th St. house at around 9 and had phoned Marshack. She soon joined Rockefeller in what was described in the Times as "a long, black evening gown." The News called it "a black hostess gown," whatever that is. Uplifting toil on the art book took place until 10:15. when Rockefeller had his heart attack. In the intervening stretch of an hour or so until the emergency call Marshack, one assumed, had busied herself about the stricken man with attempts at revivification until finally summoning professional aid at 11:16.
In Morrow's later chronology Rockefeller and Marshack had labored away for two hours or so, apparently in the presence of the vigilant Hoffman, at a round table. Rockefeller had the heart attack and fell on the floor at 11:15. Initial attempts by Marshack and Hoffman to revive him failed.
A police car containing officers Frangos and Graffeo was dispatched at 11:16 -- the same moment Roosevelt Hospital was contacted. The hospital sent attendants Jim Paturas and Randy Huff along in an ambulance. Frangos and Graffeo arrived before Paturas and Huff. Frangos said later, "He was still warm. His face was reddish, not kind of polka-dot blotches or bluish, the way they get a little later... If he was dead at all it was just before we got there."
Paturas arrived with his partner about a minute later and observed, as reported in the Monday New York that Rockefeller was "in an anteroom, with a couch, fireplaces, benches, and a rug... He was on the floor. He looked blue." At 11:37 a paramedic team from St. Clare's Hospital came on the scene, summoned by Paturas. According to the Times, they found Rockefeller "lying on the floor, clad in dark trousers and socks but no shoes."
After various vain high-technology attempts at revival Hoffman insisted, over the wishes of the paramedics, that Rockefeller be taken not to St. Clare's but to Lenox Hill Hospital. Here was waiting Dr. Ernest Esakov, the family physician. Dr. Esakov would not say who had summoned him and the Times added that "it could not be learned who had placed the call"; or, presumably, when it was placed.
MORROW explained to reporters on Sunday that it was Marshack who had been responsible for the confusion in the time of the heart attack. She had told Esakov, whom she must have encountered after riding in the ambulance to Lenox Hill Hospital, that the seizure came at 10:15 rather than 11:15. This error occurred in the stress of the moment. Marshack, said Morrow, was "a very shaken aide, wrong by one hour." Another Rockefeller spokesman, George Taylor, added that it was "just a case of excitement." Morrow also revealed that Marshack was "up in the country with friends" and not available for an interview. He quoted her as having said, apropos the mistaken time, "I don't know. I was in shock. I probably am responsible."
If, over the weekend, Morrow was sounding about as reliable as Nixon in one of his later press conferences, on Monday he was on the ropes. Tuesday's Times and News both reported that an AP reporter in Washington had rung Marshack's home at 4 a.m. Saturday, within a few hours of Rockefeller's death. Marshack declined to record an interview and confided that Morrow was with her in the apartment and might speak to the reporter later.
It is of course possible that Morrow merely forgot that he'd been talking to Marshack (as well as her age, which was apparently 25 and not 31) and thus felt able to assure reporters later on Saturday that only the guard and the chauffeur had been present. He simply told AP on Monday that he was tired of the whole business and had nothing more to say.
I dare say that if Carter discussed the matter with Teng Hsiao-ping the latter might have responded that similar uncertainties attended the death of Lin Piao. Certainly Pope John Paul II could have confirmed from Mexico that contradictory statements followed the death of his predecessor. John Paul I, you may recall, was first stated by the Vatican to have been reading Thomas a Kempis when he died with a smile on his face. It later turned out that he had a heart attack after reading an unpleasant bureaucratic memorandum. Others were reminded of the death of Garfield. The actor John Garfield, not the president.
Morrow's most elegiac statement was one of his first. In the immediate post mortem phase he told reporters that Rockefeller was "'having a ball' as he put it." On Sunday the Times said that "the consensus was that Mr. Rockefeller had died the way he had lived -- doing, working, moving, never slowed." At least in the whole saga there's comfort for smokers and drinkers. Rockefeller, who reportedly took off only three days from work in his entire life for reasons of ill health, never indulged in either of these particular vices.