Richard M. Ketchum Dies at 89; Chronicled the Rural Life
Published: January 20, 2012
Richard M. Ketchum, an author and editor who co-founded Country Journal, a magazine that offered a blend of the bucolic and the practical, particularly to city folk who had opted for the rural life, died on Jan. 12 at a retirement home in Shelburne, Vt. He was 89 and until four years ago had lived on his nearly 1,000-acre farm, Saddleback, in Dorset, Vt.
His daughter, Liza Ketchum, confirmed his death.
Originally called Blair & Ketchum’s Country Journal — it was started in 1974 by William S. Blair and Mr. Ketchum, both expatriates from the publishing world in New York City — the magazine provided down-home wisdom on topics like wood stoves, potato farming and ice fishing. It delved into issues like the damage done to drinking water by salt on rural roads, the loss of farmland and the availability of medical services in remote areas.
Mr. Ketchum, the magazine’s editor, also wrote a monthly essay, “Letters From the Country,” in which he was often lyrical about such things as the stringing of fences, the birthing of calves and the warmth of waving at neighbors as they pass your front porch.
He wrote of a small town’s Memorial Day celebration: “From high on the hill, a bugler concealed somewhere in the ancient maples sounds taps. In this tiny cemetery lie the dead of all our country’s wars, and somehow they are all comrades when those clear, heartbreaking notes float on the air bidding them all ‘Go to sleep, go to sleep.’ ”
A student of American history and, in particular, its wars, Mr. Ketchum wrote more than a dozen books, six of which focused on the American Revolution. Among them are “Decisive Day: The Battle for Bunker Hill” (1962), “Saratoga: Turning Point of America’s Revolutionary War” (1997) and “The Borrowed Years, 1938-1941” (1989), about the events leading up to the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
Mr. Ketchum had been editorial director of the American Heritage publishing company’s book division in 1974 when he and his wife decided to give up the grind of weekend commutes to their farm in Dorset. Ten years earlier Mr. Blair, a former publisher of Harper’s Magazine, had made a similar choice and bought a 106-acre farm in Guilford, Vt. A friend introduced them, and they soon realized they had similar notions of a magazine for people tired of hectic city life.
By the time Country Journal was sold in 1984 to the first of two publishing companies, it had a circulation of about 300,000 and a distribution well beyond New England. It has since ceased publication. (Mr. Blair died in 2000.)
Richard Malcolm Ketchum was born in Pittsburgh on March 15, 1922, to George and Thelma Patton Ketchum. He graduated from Yale with a degree in American history in 1943, the same year he married Barbara Bray, a dancer with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Mrs. Ketchum died three months ago.
Besides his daughter, Mr. Ketchum is survived by a son, Thomas; a sister, Janet Whitehouse; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
After college, Mr. Ketchum served as commander of a Navy submarine chaser in the Atlantic. He owned an advertising agency until 1951, when he joined the United States Information Agency, eventually becoming director of overseas publications. He was hired by American Heritage in 1956.
Eighteen years later, he turned to rural life. Of that Memorial Day, he wrote, “Soon the lilacs will be gone and we are reminded, as we walk away from the cemetery, that this is also the day we must plant the rest of the garden for the summer and winter that lie ahead.”