Richard Edmund Lyng, 84, who had been a California businessman, American Meat Institute president and state and federal agriculture official before serving as secretary of agriculture from 1986 to 1989, died Feb. 1 at his home in his native Modesto, Calif. He had Parkinson's disease.
Mr. Lyng, a 1940 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, served in the Pacific during World War II. From 1945 to 1967, he was president of Ed J. Lyng Co., a family-owned seed and bean business.
In 1967, he was appointed chief deputy director of the California Agriculture Department under Gov. Ronald Reagan. Mr. Lyng became director before coming to Washington and joining the Nixon administration in 1969. He spent the next four years as assistant secretary of agriculture for marketing and consumer services, where his achievements included development of a food stamp program.
After six years as president of the American Meat Institute, he joined the Reagan presidential campaign in 1979, becoming co-director of the farm and food division of the 1980 Reagan-Bush campaign.
During the first Reagan administration, Mr. Lyng served as deputy secretary of agriculture. As the department's No. 2 official, he was responsible for the day-to-day operation of the 100,000-person department and was head of its arcane, complicated and massive budget operations. Along the way, he gained a reputation with reporters as a knowledgeable, accessible and honest spokesman and official.
He left government in 1985, after heart bypass surgery, and was a Washington agriculture consultant before being named agriculture secretary in 1986. Mr. Lyng, who had been skillful in his dealings with Congress, saw his nomination hailed by Republicans and Democrats alike.
Upon taking office, he made headlines by issuing a memo on personnel matters to all assistant secretaries and agency heads warning them that from that moment on, in a department that had come under attack by civil rights groups, race would be a central issue. He wrote that however well the department and its officials did on other matters, they would be judged first by racial discrimination records.
He wrote, "I will not tolerate discrimination in any form and I expect you to make equality of opportunity and respect for civil rights an integral part of all decisions and processes affecting your work force and programs."
In an editorial, The Washington Post wrote "True, you don't turn around a department just by writing a memo. But surely that's how you start. Who can remember an affirmation of this kind from any Cabinet officer? Hats off to Mr. Lyng."
Upon learning of Mr. Lyng's death, Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman, who had served under the former secretary, issued a statement hailing her friend for his integrity, insight, candor and wisdom and calling him "a visionary leader in agriculture who worked passionately on behalf of the nation's farmers and ranchers."