Hugh Swanson Sidey (1927 – 2005), was a journalist and historian, born into a family of Iowa journalists. Although he wrote extensively about the US presidency and other issues of national and international concerns, Sidey also remained true to his small town Iowa roots. He was born in Greenfield, the county seat of Adair County, and was fond saying that he began his career at the age of six when his grandfather handed him a broom and told him to sweep the floor.
Sidey was educated in the public schools of Greenfield and then went off to Iowa State College (now University) to study journalism. After graduation and military service, he returned to Greenfield to work at the family paper, the Adair County Free Press. “It was the best summer of my life,” he often recalled. He had the opportunity to “do it all” – write stories, take photographs, sold advertising, and supervised printing and distribution.
But Sidey’s time in Greenfield did not last long and within a few months he moved on to work at daily newspapers in Council Bluffs and Omaha. He moved to Life magazine in 1957 where he made an immediate impact. He soon transferred to Time magazine where he eventually became chief of the Washington Bureau and author of a regular column on the presidency.
During his time in Washington Sidey covered a number of events of profound international importance including the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the visit to China by Richard M. Nixon, and the Camp David Peace Accords. In all of these profound moments, as well as in lighter times, Sidey exhibited a keen sense of observation that made him an important commentator on the course of current events.
His personable style also made him a favored guest of several of these president and Sidey wrote perceptive biographies of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Gerald R. Ford. He was particularly close to Ronald Reagan and had the president’s confidence. Sidey was later conflicted by this friendship concerned that it affected his ability to be objective. Commenting on Regan in 1996, Sidey candidly remarked: “I simply liked him too much.”
Sidey’s skills as both a shrewd observer and a raconteur led to numerous appearances on local and national television programs and in documentaries about the presidency. He was a regular guest on a nationally syndicated program, “Inside Washington,” and hosted “The American Presidents” on the Public Broadcasting Network. He also wrote several books on the presidency and the White House as a member of the White House Historical Association.
But after all his travels and experience, Sidey relished the opportunity to return home to Iowa. “I confess prejudice as a person born and reared in Iowa,” he wrote in Iowa: A Celebration of Land, People, and Purpose (1996). “… Iowa has a subtle magic that was God-given at first, but has been protected and enlarged by Iowa’s generations and now yields a culture that has remarkable virtues.”