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

We bid farewell to the man who started it all.

| May 8, 2009


John and Jane Shuttleworth, 1975


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.

11/1/2010 2:49:23 PM

Hello to those who knew and loved John Shuttleworth. I am a Real Estate Broker with Fuller Sotheby's International Realty in Evergreen, CO. I have recently listed John's residence. I would like to invite you to view this property on my website (MLS#916292). The property reflects John's desire for independence and self sustainability. It is an architectural gem and very unique. I would appreciate hearing from any of you and if you know of someone who may be interested in the amenities this home has to offer, please feel free to pass on this information.

ray heizer
12/28/2009 2:58:45 AM

So sad to hear of John's passing. Long before The Mother Earth News, we met through the London-based Globetrotters Club, and he taught me how to hitchhike by air! I never met him in person, but I did stop in, unannounced, at his home in North Madison, Ohio, while traveling by in the summer of 1965 and spent an hour his parents.

joy powell_4
11/2/2009 10:07:21 AM

Hi Sonia, Kay, Jeff, and the rest of the gang from the good old days at TMEN! (Mine were '76 to'77.) I was moved to hear just today of John's passing and then to see your names and read you comments. Who could not be impacted from knowing John? I remember his passionate and brilliant discourses, his meticulous attention to detail, even his bullheaded meanness...all with fondness now. He introduced me to self-sufficiency, Helen and Scott Nearing, and other profundities. On the other hand, he taught me to pick up paper clips and forever think of him. And I still hope he finds those missing Derek Fell photos somewhere in the great blue yonder. Warm best wishes to you all. Joy Powell

diane kaczor
10/27/2009 4:32:24 PM's amazing to see all the old names from the Mother Earth News of the mid-70's in Hendersonville. I am grateful to John for bringing me to the beautiful mountains of North Carolina and being introduced to the back to the earth movement. He certainly was a pioneer and it was an adventure to be part of the magazine at that time. I remember all of the staff fondly (wonder where Bill McFall is?)

carolyn d. sizemore_2
10/4/2009 6:33:44 PM

Good to see messages from so many old friends at Mother. Many years of hard but rewarding work. I have never been able to duplicate what we had. The friendships and respect for individual talent. John tested us all and I think I, for one, am better for it.

fred mahaffey
7/14/2009 8:35:14 AM

I remember working in the correspondence department in the old funeral home in North Madison while my ex-wife, John, labored in Mother's General Store across the road. John and Jane's dream was contagious, and our family packed up and headed south to visions of windmills and methane generators. Even now, here in the farthest cry from Hendersonville, NC, I am puttin' up jams and pickles and chutneys and preserves! Ever grateful to that gruff ole guy, John! Enjoy the rest of the journey!

jeff parnau
7/2/2009 10:22:35 AM

Hi Sonia, Kay, Ed, et. al. -- I just heard about this on July 1. Working at TMEN was pretty much like boot camp. It was hard, long, and if you didn't learn fast, you were history. John was much more vulnerable than most people knew. I had a few email exchanges with him a few years ago. He detested the internet at that time, and still used a typewriter and postage stamp. Kay mentioned a reunion. That would be cool.

kay holmes stafford
6/6/2009 3:14:44 PM

Hi Jim Ed... aka Newton! Glad to see your message. Just thinking about MOTHER and John brings back so many memories of working in that old Ruth Originals building and all those long hours. John was definitely ahead of his time for sure... if only the country had persued alcohol fuel burning cars way back then. Before this news I was hoping we could have a reunion, now it would be nice to get together and remember John. There are so many stories! Five acres and independence... that was his rallying cry. He will be missed.

sonia nordenson
6/6/2009 12:42:17 PM

Hey, Jim Ed and all you other former staffers! (My years in Hendersonville were '76 to '78.) Greetings and blessings. Thanks to Kay Holmes Stafford for letting me know about John's passing. My recollections of all of you--and even of irascible, visionary John--are fond. We had some great times among all those grueling weeks! Remember the Florida expedition? Remember Alan Chadwick and Agaja? Ann Wigmore? Helen and Scott Nearing? I hope Jane is happy, wherever she now may be, and that John is now in a parallel universe where they still include "The" in the TMEN title. If anyone wants to get in touch, I'm on facebook. (That's how Kay and I refound each other.) Much love to all.

jim ed morans
5/19/2009 3:44:41 PM

I was on MOTHER'S editorial staff from '73 - '76 in Hendersonville. I knew John was way ahead of his time . . . and still is. He was rather difficult to work for at times, but we all believed in what we were doing. He was a visionary of major proportions. I still dream about working there . . . and would love to hear from any of you former MOTHER staffers from that era. Rest well, John Shuttleworth. You are missed.

john m_2
5/8/2009 11:00:28 PM

Our heartfelt prayers go out to John’s family and friends. For the most part when Mother first caught our eye, in those early days, we have been following and somewhat living a richer life through her teachings. May GOD bless you John with a rich harvest! John & Trudy, Huntsville AL.

pat miketinac
5/8/2009 8:09:23 PM

So sorry to hear of John's passing. I still have issue #1 which contains some of the most inspirational writings I have ever come across. Long live memories of John and Eco-Village.

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