The first Californian to serve as U.S. secretary of Agriculture, Richard E. “Dick” Lyng died Feb. 1 in his sleep in his Modesto, Calif., home.

He was 84 and had been suffering from Parkinson's disease.

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 California 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 Lying head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lyng was quiet yet forceful secretary and shaped domestic and global agricultural policies with the aura of a diplomat or ambassador. Though he was a strong advocate for agriculture in all the 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.

Lyng was born in San Francisco, but he and his family were longtime permanent fixtures of Modesto, the base of his family's business.

Lyng received a business degree from in 1940 and later spent four years in the Pacific during World War II. He was president of the Ed J. Lyng Co., a family-owned seed and bean business in Modesto, from 1945 to 1967 when he was named deputy director of the California department of food and agriculture. He eventually became state agriculture secretary and later joined USDA in the Nixon administration. Veneman worked for Lyng at USDA, joining the Foreign Agriculture Service when Lyng became secretary for then President Reagan.

Funeral services were held in Modesto.