Cochair of the upcoming SOFO anniversary gala, Susan Rockefeller shares her stories of growing up in the Hamptons and why she’s passionate about protecting its waterways.
A lifelong Hamptonite, Susan Rockefeller’s many hats include protecting the environment, both locally and globally.
Documentary filmmaker, author, philanthropist, activist, jewelry designer, world traveler, wife, and mother—Susan Rockefeller’s CV is longer than Long Island, and her passion for protecting its environment is as deep as its neighboring ocean. “Most people love to come to the Hamptons because they love that saturated light and the beauty of the beaches; I just feel like I’ve come home,” says Rockefeller, who will cochair the South Fork Natural History Museum and Nature Center’s 25th anniversary gala, SoFo Goes Silver, alongside artist April Gornik and Paddle Diva’s Gina Bradley on July 19. “The Hamptons is a magical place. I knew it when it was just called ‘going to Long Island’—‘the Hamptons’ is sort of a new brand. But for all of us who love this place, the diversity of the food that comes from here, the beaches, and the nature, I say protect what is precious. If we can protect the Hamptons, it will be here for our grandchildren.”
The museum and center, which aims to safeguard the local environment and provide education about the nature that surrounds the East End, is just one of many environmental organizations to which Rockefeller lends her support. She’s also chair of the Ocean Council for Oceana, a nonprofit group focused on promoting biodiversity in marine life and food security, and a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, which was instrumental in the creation of the Clean Air Act. “I feel like we need everybody to step up to the plate; I always say small ripples make big waves. Everybody has to do their part,” says Rockefeller, who starts every morning by reading a quote of gratitude.
Married to philanthropist David Rockefeller Jr. since May 2008, the couple met while filming the documentary This is Alaska. Today, they collaborate on projects such as Changing Watch, a fundraiser and talk the couple gave in conjunction with the We Are Family Foundation, which aims to teach teens about global problems. “I do think the Rockefeller name, with its history of broad and deep philanthropy, is amazing, and the more I learn about it, the more humbled I am at the enormousness of the family’s vision,” she says. “It goes across so many different areas, whether it’s health, human rights, the environment, or helping to alleviate the suffering of the most poor; it’s like a graduate course in learning.”
Rockefeller’s most recent film project, Mission of Mermaids, captured both her love of the ocean and her fascination with mermaids. “To me, the mermaid is that sense of wonder, that sense of mystery,” she says. Rockefeller also captured the mythical figure in her jewelry line, Dive Deep Collection—which helps raise awareness for marine health and a portion of whose proceeds benefit Oceana. It is available this summer at London Jewelers.
18k gold Mermaid bangle from Susan Rockefeller’s Dive Deep Collection.
A handcarved mermaid from Greenwich Living.
A lifelong Hamptonite, Rockefeller spent summers growing up in East Hampton. “I remember waiting for my father at the train station and throwing pennies onto the track,” she says. “It was so classically ’50s and ’60s, when the men would come on a Friday and meet their families.”
That Rockwell-esque upbringing is something she hopes to create with her husband and their four children at their 1860s farmhouse in Bridgehampton. “It’s a perfect house with beautiful gardens,” she says of the estate. “I love to feel like I can be both inside and outside and have very little differentiation between the two. It’s a happy home. And it has one of the oldest trees on the East End, an oak that’s more than 100 years old. It’s just beautiful.”
The very definition of a Renaissance woman, Rockefeller is currently wrapping up her next film, Food for Thought, Food for Life, which chronicles the growers who are working to restore and preserve farmland soil, set to premiere in Shanghai in October. But until then, her attention is focused purely on her family. “I love being a wife and I love being a mother,” she says. “I’m quite traditional in that respect. Love is everything. I really believe that what creates a sane, empathic, and compassionate world is the way mothers mother their children. I feel lucky that my parents brought me [to the Hamptons], and now my children are coming here, and they love it. I’m sure they’re going to want their children to come here, too.”