It would be interesting to know what Ernest L. Boyer thought of Nelson A. Rockefeller, the long-serving governor of New York State and later U.S. Vice President under Gerald Ford. Rockefeller was in office when Boyer served as chancellor of New York’s state university system (1970-1977), and to judge by the number of times “Rockefeller” shows up in a Boyer Center Archives’ online database search, it seems like they had considerable contact.
Yet Rockefeller once famously quipped, “I am imaginative [but] I am not bright.” And he wasn’t just being modest: Rockefeller lore is replete with laugh-worthy gaffes. A New York Times review of Rockefeller’s biography chronicles these embarrassments in this way:
Reading Richard Norton Smith’s fat biography is a task “Rocky” [as Rockefeller was known] himself, who had severe dyslexia, probably couldn’t have completed. He was painfully inarticulate, once praising a political colleague for doing his job “horrendously” when he probably meant “stupendously.” He displayed embarrassing ignorance. Impressed by a Thomas Aquinas quote he came across in a newspaper editorial, Rockefeller asked a staff aide to arrange a meeting with this astute theologian. Rockefeller’s grasp of science didn’t inspire much confidence either. After being briefed on the harm aerosol products were doing to the ozone layer, he asked: “How do all those spray cans get up there?”
While we may never know how Boyer — himself famously articulate — related to a man so prone to public blunders, we can say for sure that they both had a high regard for education. For all his slip-ups, Rockefeller — like Boyer — was a champion of education. His biographer, in fact, describes him as “revering education . . . ‘as a blind man does sight.'” Prime among the evidence for such an assertion is the fact that Rockefeller virtually invented the State University of New York (SUNY) system, rocketing its enrollment from 38,000 to 244,000 students.
These facts help explain Rockefeller’s inscription on today’s Photo Friday image: “To Ernie Boyer, from his friend and admirer with deep appreciation and best wishes for your continued success!”
To learn more about Rockefeller, check out this review of his biography, On His Own Terms: A Life of Nelson A. Rockefeller.