John Shuttleworth, Co-founder of Mother Earth News, 1937-2009

We bid farewell to the man who started it all.

| May 8, 2009

  • Shuttleworths
    John and Jane Shuttleworth, 1975

  • Shuttleworths

John Shuttleworth, who co-founded MOTHER EARTH NEWS with his first wife, Jane, in 1970, died earlier this year at his home in Evergreen, Colo. He was 71. John was preceded in death by his second wife, Wren Davenport Shuttleworth.

John and Jane Shuttleworth started MOTHER EARTH NEWS in 1970. John had a lifelong interest in the environment and self-reliant living.

“He always wanted people to be able to take care of themselves,” his sister, Linda Weddle of Redkey, Ind., told The Denver Post.

First based in North Madison, Ohio, the Shuttleworths would later move the magazine to Hendersonville, N.C., before selling it in 1979. MOTHER EARTH NEWS would change owners a few more times before its current publisher, Ogden Publications, acquired it in 2001.

"All we had was a dream," Shuttleworth said in an interview with the magazine in 1975. "Within the limits of the painfully short resources we had on hand, we wanted to publish — even if we never got past the first one — a magazine that would interest us. Not advertisers, not distributors, not the “average” reader, not the pseudo-intellectuals. Us. And we wanted a periodical that would [1] help other little people just like us live richer, fuller, freer, more self-directed lives and [2] ease us all into more actively putting the interests of the planet over and above any personal interests."

Years ago, Shuttleworth wrote to us to let us know he was keeping an eye on the magazine. His letter said: “The whole world has changed since I founded and published the magazine. So I thought I’d write and let you know that you’re doin’ just fine … I’d be doin’ a lot of things differently if I were putting the publication together today. But I’m not. It’s nice to see someone else still doing the heavy lifting. Keep on keepin’ on.”

5/30/2013 8:31:54 AM

How does a healthy man of 71 die of natural causes? Given his career and lifestyle, I assume he was a generally healthy guy. What 'natual causes' killed him?

2/16/2013 12:15:22 AM

I'm sorry to join this conversation so late. I worked with Jeff, Jim Ed, Diane, Joy, Sonia, and Kay (hi all!) at Mother from 1976 to 1980. My office was next door to John's and I worked with him closely. Along with Kenny Hodges, I was one of two people who knew John prior to joining Mother's staff. I met John in Raleigh, NC in 1968, when he was the editor of a small trade publication in aviation. He mentored me as I began writing and selling some of my first aviation articles. In 1970, John moved back to Ohio and began working for a notorious aviation figure (I want to say huckster) named Jim Bede. As PR chief of Bede Aircraft, John was intensely unhappy with his job. He quit to start The Mother Earth News. I kept in touch with John and while I was in grad school he recruited me to come to work for him. (The recruitment conversations happened in late 1975, when Mother was already in NC.) I went to work at Mother in Jan. 1976. Thus began the most intense education in journalism and salesmanship I've ever had. John was an extraordinarily gifted, multifaceted individual, and an individualist in the truest sense. He worked to high standards and pushed others to do the same. He could be brutal at times. We used to say he ruled the office with a "whim of iron." He recruited many high-powered magazine-industry people from NYC -- and usually fired them a few weeks later. This became such a pattern that it greatly depressed many of us. Nonetheless, I won't forget the camaraderie all of us felt, working for John. If you were on his good side, he treated you very, very well. And most of us were on his good side most of the time. John was a staunch champion of "the little guy" and felt tremendous loyalty to his readers (who numbered about 300,000 at the time; 1977-78). He strongly advocated living off the grid -- and yet he owned a propjet corporate aircraft and an expensive house, and as somebody said, he grew few or no vegetables himself. So in many ways he was a walking paradox. Still, I wouldn't call him a hypocrite or a phony -- he was neither. He was true to his cause and he really did have his readers' interests at heart; it came through in his editorials and if you worked alongside him every day as I did, you knew he felt the little guy's pain. He rejected the phoniness of corporate America and the "American dream" as propagated by mainstream media. He was an astute student of economics (he subscribed to countless financial newsletters) and was the world's biggest political skeptic. He could speak knowledgeably about the stock market, the gold market, fiscal policy, geopolitics, and pop culture, just as easily as he could tell you about building a shed or raising pigs or creating a wind generator. He was also extremely well-read when it came to marketing and advertising; he had all the books, knew all the classics, and he was a student of all manner of print advertising, especially the come-on ads for things like "The Lazy Man's Way to Riches." He was a huge fan of Napoleon Hill and gave every employee a copy of Think and Grow Rich, not as a guide for financial success but as a path to spiritual perfection (if that makes sense). I could go on and on and on (and on) about John. I knew him well. He was an original. I miss him still. John, wherever you are, I salute you. You taught us all well.

Donald Thompson
6/17/2012 3:37:46 AM

John started the Mother Earth News in Madison. He approached me about renting one of my farm buildings as a shipping terminal for the magazine. The first issue was shipped from that building. During the next few years, I realized this man could do anything he set out to do. Even the crew, that he hired, was impressive. Brilliant is the best word I can think to use to describe John.

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