J. Earl Coke, former secretary of the California Agriculture and Services Agency and an assistant secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration, has died of the complications of old age.
He was 90 when he died Dec. 31 in a San Gabriel convalescent hospital.
Born in Downey, Coke was raised on a farm in Ontario and earned a bachelor of science degree in agriculture in 1923 from UC Berkeley.
He went to work for the UC Agricultural Extension Service in Berkeley as an assistant farm adviser, staying there until 1935.
From 1935 to 1949, Coke was a vice president and member of the board of directors of the Spreckels Sugar Co. based in San Francisco. He then returned to the UC Agricultural Extension Service, where he was director until 1954.
Coke took a leave of absence to serve as assistant secretary of agriculture in the Eisenhower Administration, then came back to California as the Bank of America’s vice president in charge of agricultural loans.
In 1966, he joined Gov. Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet as director of agriculture and became secretary of the Agriculture and Services Agency--now known as the Department of Food and Agriculture--when it was created the following year.
He resigned in 1972, at age 72 the oldest member of Reagan’s Cabinet.