DES MOINES, IA (AP)--John Chrystal, a farm boy who became a leading banker, politician and agricultural adviser to leaders of the former Soviet Union, has died of cancer. He was 74.
Chrystal died Jan. 19 at Iowa Methodist Medical Center, where he had been admitted Jan. 16.
Chrystal--a lifelong bachelor known for his wire-rimmed glasses and bow ties--was a former state banking superintendent, president of the Iowa Bankers Association and Iowa Civil Liberties Union. In 1986, he was The Des Moines Register's Iowa Farm Leader of the Year. He unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for governor in 1990.
"He had a keen perspective on political affairs, unclouded by ideology or bias," longtime friend Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, said Jan. 20. "Iowans will forever be indebted to John for his lifetime of work to improve the quality of life in our state. .. Russians and other people of the former Soviet Union will forever be grateful to John for his lifelong help to them in agriculture, trade and for bringing a closer friendship between the two countries."
During the height of the Cold War, starting in 1960, Chrystal traveled about every other year to the Soviet Union at the government's invitation. He toured the land, dined with Nikita Khrushchev and talked farming with Mikhail Gorbachev.
"If we can become less afraid of each other, we have a better chance of stopping the arms race and not blowing each other up," Chrystal said in a 1987 interview. "I think it's the proper thing for an American to do."
In 1981, he was the first American to meet Gorbachev, who was a party leader at the time, And in 1997, he was elected as a foreign member to the Russian Academy of Agricultural Sciences.
His uncle, Roswell Garst, made international headlines when then-Soviet leader Khrushchev visited his farm near Coon Rapids in 1959.
Chrystal was chairman and chief executive officer of Bankers Trust, Inc., in the 1980s and still maintained the home where he was born in Coon Rapids and was a partner with his brother on the farm.
"People had enormous respect for him because he was wise," Liz Garst, Roswell Garst's granddaughter, said today from Coon Rapids. "He was funny and very smart."
More recently, Chrystal endorsed Bill Bradley's bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and served as a chairman of Gov. Tom Vilsack's 1998 campaign.
When asked about Chrystal at a campaign appearance Thursday, Bradley initially was overcome by emotion and unable to speak.
"I think that John Chrystal was an extraordinary human being," Bradley finally said. "He was a friend. He was a leader in both the private sector and government."
Chrystal graduated from Coon Rapids High School in 1943 and earned a degree in economics from the University of Iowa in 1949.
He is survived by a brother, Tom Chrystal of Coon Rapids, and sister, Virginia Chrystal Davis of Omaha, Neb. Funeral services are pending.
"John was an extraordinary individual who gave his many talents to the people of Iowa," Vilsack said in a statement. "As a farmer, banker and citizen ambassador, John Chrystal showed Iowans that individuals from all walks of life can make a difference in our community and the world."