Exceptional journalist and farmers market activist John C. Hyde died March 6 from a head injury, incurred from a tragic fall in his home in Takoma Park, Maryland. He was 64.
Many will remember Hyde for his clear and brilliant coverage of Iowa politics, while as a reporter for the Des Moines Register both at the paper’s headquarters and in the Washington, DC, bureau. His 2000 biography of Henry Wallace, American Dreamer, chronicles the early-twentieth-century life of the hybrid seed corn developer, who served as secretary of agriculture and vice president of the United States. A Washington Post “best book of the year,” American Dreamer, is, said George McGovern, “a great book about a great man. I can’t recall when–if ever–I’ve read a better biography.”
Others will remember Hyde’s pioneering work to establish a farmers market in Wheaton, Maryland. Beyond accepting WIC coupons and food stamps, the market employed immigrant farmers who John helped receive micro-loans to acquire seeds and tools. Hailing from the Caribbean, India and West Africa, many of the vendors sold produce native to their countries. Shortly before he died, Hyde had met with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to lobby the former Iowa governor to expand upon Wheaton’s farmer’s market model and widen access for those with food stamps to fresh fruits and vegetables.
I will remember John Hyde in his role as head of the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which he ran for eight years until December, 2008. While there he spurred hundreds of journalists–including many contributors to The Nation–working without the backing of major news organizations, to tackle tough obscure stories.
More than other directors at the fund, he had a remarkable dedication to reporters, in particular to those working in Africa and Eastern Europe, who worked under trying of circumstances. Without John Hyde and the board at the fund, I would never have had the necessary funds to visit with farm workers in Washington state who had been poisoned by pesticides while picking fruit. It was a story that resulted in The Nation‘s 2003 report, “Fields of Poison.” I and countless others are indebted to his support and enthusiasm.
“John was a remarkably decent man,” says Ed Pound, an investigative reporter at National Journal, who serves as president of the fund board. “He was not someone to shout about himself, even though he was an accomplished journalist, a brilliant and graceful writer, and a passionate supporter of the less fortunate.”
Hyde’s passing is a loss not only for all of us lucky enough to know him but for the people and communities he reached through his writing and activism. He will be greatly missed.