The first Californian to serve as U.S. secretary of agriculture, Richard E. (Dick) Lyng, died Jan. 31 in his sleep in Modesto, Calif. Lyng, who had been suffering from Parkinson's disease, was 84.

A long-time central California agricultural businessman, Lyng served as secretary of agriculture from 1986 to 1989. He was a mentor to the current secretary, Ann Veneman, the second Californian to hold the post and the first woman secretary.

He served as head of California's Department of Food and Agriculture under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, who as president appointed Lyng deputy secretary of agriculture and the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture after Secretary John Block resigned.

Lyng was a quiet yet forceful secretary who shaped domestic and global agricultural policies with the aura of a diplomat or ambassador. Though he was a strong advocate for agriculture in farm bill debates and farm disaster relief efforts, he once said his greatest accomplishment was creation of the department's food stamp program designed to help the nation's poor and needy.

“Secretary Lyng was a visionary leader in agriculture who worked passionately on behalf of this nation's farmers and ranchers. He was a friend, a mentor and person of great integrity whose insight, candor and wisdom will be sorely missed,” said Veneman.

“I join the entire USDA family and agriculture community throughout the nation in offering our deepest sympathies and prayers to the entire Lyng family, particularly his daughters and grandchildren.

“Secretary Lyng shared many friends and colleagues and touched the lives of so many people. Today while we mourn his loss, we also celebrate a remarkable man and an inspiring life journey.”