WASHINGTON, March 4, 2017 – American agriculture lost one of its staunchest advocates and most gifted leaders this morning with the passing of former Secretary of Agriculture Clayton Yeutter, age 86, after a four-year battle with metastatic colon cancer.
Born on a farm near Eustis, Nebraska, during the Dust Bowl days, he graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with B.S. and J.D. degrees as well as a Ph.D. in agricultural economics and later served on the faculty there. His career brought him into the some of the most powerful governments around the globe, but regardless of the jobs he held, Yeutter never stopped teaching or caring about the importance of helping others.
“Clayton is always reaching for the stars. He just always believes that this day, when he woke up, he faced the best day of his life,” recalled former U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns in a video tribute that Agri-Pulse coordinated in 2015. “And he has been at the very, very outer extremes of the power system in our country and it hasn’t affected him. He’s just that decent honorable guy that grew up on that farm in Nebraska.”
Yeutter said he learned a lot about hard work from his father whom he described as “one of the hardest working people ever on the face of this earth. And my mother was not that far behind him.”
He was a key advocate for opening global markets to not only free, but a fair, rules-based trading system.
“His efforts led to an unprecedented expansion of agricultural exports,” wrote former President George H.W. Bush in a 2015 letter.
James Baker, who was secretary of the Treasury while Yeutter served as U.S Trade Representative, described him as a “first class example of the model American public servant. A man who always placed his country’s best interests above any other consideration.”
U.S. Trade Ambassador Darci Vetter, who was appointed by President Obama, described her fellow Nebraskan as a “mentor and a friend” who continued to have an impact on policy long after he served in Republican administrations.
“He is serving as the elder statesmen who, although he was very politically active and loyal to his party, often speaks above and outside of party lines. He’s really a patriot in the very best sense of that word to say what’s in the greater interest for the United States. So he’s still influencing trade policy, by being that voice of experience and wisdom,” she told Agri-Pulse in 2015.
Yeutter’s early political and international experience included working for Nebraska Gov. Norbert Tiemann and as director of the University of Nebraska Mission in Colombia. Later, he served in cabinet and sub-cabinet posts for four presidents: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. He was named as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture under Bush, serving from 1989 to 1991.
His distinguished career included working as president and CEO of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange from 1978 until June 1985, U.S. Trade Representative from 1985 to 1989, chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1991 to 1992, and counselor to President Bush in 1992. Most recently, he worked as a senior advisor at the international law firm, Hogan Lovells, in Washington, D.C.
He is survived by his wife Christy and three daughters – Victoria, Elena, and Olivia – along with four children: Brad Yeutter, Gregg Yeutter, Kim (Yeutter) Bottimore, and Van Yeutter from his first wife, Jeanne, who died in 1993.
A memorial service is planned for Saturday, April 8, in Bethesda, Maryland.
As part of his ongoing legacy, Yeutter and his family made a $2.5 million gift to the University of Nebraska Foundation in 2015 to launch the Clayton K. Yeutter Institute of International Trade and Finance. Last fall, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln announced the establishment of three endowed chairs as the foundation of the Yeutter Institute: the Duane Acklie Chair in the College of Business Administration, the Michael Yanney Chair in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, and the Clayton Yeutter Chair in the College of Law.
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