Earl Lauer Butz, the outspoken U.S. secretary of agriculture who served under presidents Nixon and Ford, died Feb. 2, 2008. he was 98.
A native of Indiana, Butz was the first person to earn a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from Purdue, in 1937.
In 1943, he was a research economist for the Brookings Institute, and from 1954 to 1957, he was assistant secretary for marketing and foreign agriculture in USDA. He returned to Purdue to become dean of continuing education and vice president of Purdue’s Research Foundation.
On Dec. 2, 1971, he was appointed secretary of agriculture, nominated by President Richard Nixon, and served until Oct. 4, 1976. A straight-talker, Butz was colorful, but often spoke of the changes coming to agriculture, and is known for his blunt “Get big or get out” comment. He was forced to resign from the USDA in 1976 after intense criticism for an insensitive joke he told reporters.
Butz returned to Purdue after leaving Washington, serving as a lecturer and consultant around the world. He remained committed to the university, donating $1 million to the ag economics department in 1999.
“I was a stubborn cuss, and I made some mistakes,” Butz told writer Beth Forbes in 2004. “But you’ve got to make choices, and you’re not going to be right all the time.”