Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Richard E. Lyng (1986–1989): Secretary of Agriculture

Richard Edmund Lyng was born in 1918 in San Francisco, California. He earned a bachelor’s, with highest honors, from Notre Dame University in 1940, and then returned home to Modesto, California, where he worked in his father’s seed business.

During World War II, Lyng joined the military and saw action in the Pacific. Following his discharge in 1945 as a lieutenant colonel, Lyng returned to Modesto and served as the president of his family’s company (1949-1967) and as a president of the California Seed Association (1953).

In 1966, he launched an unsuccessful bid for the California State Senate and then never ran for public office again. Instead, he served those who did run, advising Ronald Reagan on agricultural issues. In 1967, Governor Ronald Reagan asked Lyng to serve first as deputy director and then as director of the California Department of Agriculture, where he remained for two years before being tapped by President Richard Nixon to serve as assistant secretary of agriculture for marketing and consumer services. Lyng held that post until the end of the Nixon administration; during this time, he also served as director of the Agriculture Department’s Commodity Credit Corporation.

Lyng next became president of the American Meat Institute and worked for 1976 Republican presidential nominee Gerald Ford by heading up the group “Farmers for Ford.” Four years later, Lyng was back campaigning for the Republican presidential nominee, and was also assisting Ronald Reagan as the campaign’s codirector of the farm and food committee.

Once Reagan was elected, he named Lyng deputy secretary of agriculture, in which capacity Lyng worked as the department’s traveling lobbyist. He resigned from Reagan’s administration in 1985 but returned in 1986, this time as secretary of agriculture, a position he held until the end of the Reagan administration in 1989. Richard Edmund Lyng died in 2003.