BORN TO WEALTH and station, John D. Rockefeller III spent a quiet but immensely useful career putting his fortune at the service of his sense of public duty. He was not especially an innovator, and he was certainly no boatrocker, but he did seek out causes that offered benefits surpassing any mere consideration of gain to person or class: support of the arts, population control, international understanding. Mr. Rockfeller understood well the ways in which private money, by virtue of being more responsive and adaptable and persistent then public money, can perform certain large tasks better. His philanthropy had to it a concern for shaping and detail that was at least as impressive as its scope.

Between the public's relentless interest in the super-rich and the peculiar burdens that belonging to a great family can entail, it cannot have been easy to be a grandson of the fabled John D. While his brothers pursued interests that brought them often into the public light, John D. III, a reserved and almost shy man, stayed on an essentially private track. Yet he had an acute sense of the larger public interest, arising in good measure from his exposure to the troubles of people and peoples less fortunately situated than himself. Though he was himself beyond need, he had a feeling for those who are in need. "It will take the best efforts of everyone," he once said, to avert a global disaster of poverty and chaos."Each of us must feel a responsibility for the outcome." Truly, his death at 72, in an auto crash leaves the nation and the world the poorer.