- “I consider myself fortunate to have been allowed to play the piccolo in the great parade of American democracy for nearly half a century. During that time, the American people defeated and brought down two evil empires: the Teamsters Union and the Soviet Union, and I and my piccolo had a hand in both. That is enough for me.”
–Eugene Methvin responding to how he wanted to be remembered
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of LELDF long-time board member, Eugene Hilburn “Gene” Methvin on January 19, 2012.
Eugene Hilburn Methvin, the son and grandson of a family of Georgia newspaper men and women, was born in 1934 in Vienna, Georgia, where his parents published a country weekly, The Vienna News. He began his journalism education by sleeping on a bale of newsprint every Thursday night while his parents met the weekly deadline. He began writing and reporting for his parents’ newspaper as a child.
Continuing in the family tradition, he studied at the University of Georgia, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, cum laude, from the Henry W. Grady School of Journalism in 1955. He was also a member of Phi Beta Kappa and of the Society of Professional Journalists, Sigma Delta Chi, which named him as the outstanding male graduate of 1955. In addition, he was a member of Sigma Nu fraternity and the debate team. He won a letter as a member of the University of Georgia football team for four years under the legendary coach, Wallace Butts.
He did postgraduate study in law at the University of Georgia School of Law; and in philosophy and international relations at Youngstown State University, American University. and George Washington University.
After graduation he spent three years in the U.S. Air Force as a jet fighter pilot flying the F-86 and F-102 all-weather interceptors.
In 1958 he joined the Washington Daily News as a general assignment reporter, and in 1960 he joined the Reader’s Digest Washington bureau where he eventually became a senior editor.
He had a distinguished 42 year career at Reader’s Digest, where he penned more than 100 articles for the magazine and its 48 editions, reaching more than 100 million readers worldwide. His articles in Reader’s Digest covered topics ranging from organized crime and international terrorist groups to the U.S. Supreme Court, civil liberties and constitutional law, U.S. defense posture, Kremlin politics, and U.S.-Soviet relations. An article by Methvin in the January ’65 Reader’s Digest, “How the Reds Make a Riot,” won the coveted award for public service in magazine journalism given annually by the Society for Professional Journalists.
In 1995, the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eugene Methvin to its “Hall of Fame” for “exemplary professional achievements, outstanding service to other members of the profession and lifelong dedication to the highest standards of journalism.”
You may be wondering why LELDF would want a journalist as a member of its Board of Directors. A major part of the reason was Mr. Methvin’s groundbreaking work in combating organized crime. Methvin reported on the American criminal justice system for almost four decades. Methvin was the prime author of a series of hard-hitting Reader’s Digest articles in 1970-72 that played a key role in shaping the federal government’s war on organized crime which, in part, led to enactment of The Organized Crime Control Act of 1970.
Marvin Wolfgang, dean of American criminologists and past president and fellow of the American Society of Criminology, wrote of Methvin a few years ago, “No journalist or reporter knows more about criminology.”
The proposed Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, including the famous “RICO” statute, was buried in a committee in Congress, and Rep. Emmanuel Cellar (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, was determined to kill it there. However so much mail poured in to Congress as a result of two Methvin articles (“How the Mafia Preys on the Poor,” September ’70; and “The Mafia War on the A&P,” July ’70) that a discharge petition forced Congressman Celler to bring the legislation to the floor for a vote.
“I’ve got to get that blankety-blank Reader’s Digest off my back,” Rep. Cellar reportedly grumbled. When the bill passed overwhelmingly, 341 to 26, Sen. John McClellan, its chief architect, expressed his thanks to Methvin for his “especially significant contribution to the passage of this measure.” Then Attorney General John Mitchell sent him a pen used by President Nixon to sign the bill, expressing the Administration’s gratitude to Methvin “for the part you played in bringing this important crime legislation into being.”
Ironically, three years later it was this law’s limited testimonial immunity provision that enabled the Senate Watergate Committee to compel White House Counsel John Dean to testify, leading ultimately to Mitchell’s subsequent imprisonment and President Nixon’s resignation!
In 1983 President Reagan named Methvin as one of the 19 members of the President’s Commission on Organized Crime. Methvin supervised the Commission’s investigation and hearings on labor-management racketeering.
Methvin and Reader’s Digest were sued for $4 million by an organized crime figure named in one of his articles. After Gene presented his documentation and deposition on his investigation, a New York State judge dismissed the suit, declaring, “Documentation supplied by defendants showed they acted responsibly in extensively investigating all aspects of the story, which was imbued with legitimate public concern.” Methvin declared he would have been happy to have the judge’s ruling engraved on his tombstone.
Methvin also tackled the “religion” of Scientology in a 1980 article titled, “Scientology: Anatomy of a Frightening Cult”. A sample of one of his hard-hitting Readers’ Digest articles, “Time to Put Labor Racketeers Out of Business,” can be read here. You can read his Scientology articles and some of his other pieces as well.
His “swan song” was a July 2001 article about a rank-and-file crusader who helped break the back of a corrupt racketeering organization in the New York City employees union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union District Council 37.
Methvin wrote two books, both of which are still available online. His first was The Riot Makers: The Technology of Social Demolition, (Arlington House, 1970, 586 pages). Publisher’s Weekly commented on the book: “Methvin’s detailed study of the mass manipulation of crowds for disruptive ends carries conviction and is consistently interesting, at times engrossingly dramatic.”
Walter Trohan in the Chicago Tribune called it “one of the most important studies undertaken of our contemporary society. No one can pretend to discuss this problem until he has read this book.” Morris Ernst, author, columnist and veteran civil liberties lawyer, declared, “Having spent much of my life in defense of the use of reason as opposed to decision by violence, I consider this book the most important contribution of the last few years to the cause of the First Amendment.”
Methvin’s second book was The Rise of Radicalism: The Social Psychology of Messianic Extremism, (Arlington House, 1973, 584 pages)
USA Magazine’s Alice Widener proclaimed it “a masterpiece, answering the question about extremists, ‘How do they get that way?’”
“Well researched and highly readable, it should supersede the many works extant on the subject,” declared National Review. The Washington Star found it to be a “solid, fact-studded history and analysis . . . Methvin is neither a crusader nor alarmist but a penetrating scholar and thoughtful observer.” Modern Age said, “With scholarship and charm, this book has the sweep and power to commend it to both the expert and the general reader.”
Methvin was a past president of the Washington Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and served on the organization’s national board of directors. He also served as a director of the Foreign Policy Research Institute; a vice president of the University of Georgia Alumni Society; a member of the advisory board of the University of Georgia Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications; and a member of the Board of Visitors of the University of Georgia Libraries. He lectured frequently and widely on journalism, law enforcement, constitutional law, mass manipulation, terrorism, and the technology of social demolition.
In 1959 Methvin married his teenage sweetheart and first love, Barbara Lester of Byromville, Georgia. The couple had two daughters, Helen and Claudia. Barbara died on March 31, 2000, from injuries sustained from being hit by a speeding car as she crossed the road in front of their home. In 2011, he established the Methvin Distinguished Professorship in Southern Literature at the University of Georgia to honor his wife “whose love of Southern literature,” he often said, “was as deep as mine.” Eugene Hilburn Methvin is survived by Helen Methvin Payne, an architect, and Claudia Methvin, a physician; and two grand-daughters, Caroline and Julia Payne.
LELDF extends condolences to the family of Eugene Methvin on this great loss.