Thursday, July 1, 2004
'Fasting Ph.D.' Charles Hyder Praised by Gorbachev
By Paul Logan
Journal Staff Writer
Charles Hyder, known as the "fasting Ph.D.," once went on a 218-day anti-nuclear strike in the 1980s, drawing praise from many, including Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Hyder also had his detractors, who called him a "kook" and worse. But the Albuquerque native and astrophysicist was respected for standing up for what he believed in, including an attempt to keep radioactive waste from being stored in New Mexico, friends said.
Hyder died June 8. His several fasting protests took their toll, and he was in poor health in later years, according to the family's paid obituary.
His family could not be reached for comment. Burial was private, and no services were held. Hyder was 74.
Ellen Thomas of Washington, D.C., said she and her husband, William, met and became friends with Hyder in the 1980s at Lafayette Park, the protest spot across from the White House. William Thomas founded the park's peace vigil in 1981.
She said protesters like Hyder are often perceived as "homeless bums and lunatics, but a lot of people respect the idea we're working on."
She described Hyder as sure of himself, entertaining, charming and creative.
"He was very effective in getting attention," she said. "A lot of people have tried to fast in front of the White House, but nobody got the attention he did."
Described in Journal stories during his fast as a hefty, earthy man with a graying beard, Hyder weighed more than 300 pounds before starting his fast in September 1986.
Around Christmas of that year, Gov. Toney Anaya and Sen. Jeff Bingaman both implored Hyder to end the fast. In a statement, Bingaman urged Hyder to "reconsider his course and to choose, instead of dying for his beliefs, to live to fight for them again."
A March 1987 story told of Soviet Embassy officials delivering a message from Gorbachev, which said in part:
"We in Moscow highly value your courageous actions. ... Your spiritual strength is needed to continue the struggle for preventing a nuclear catastrophe."
Drinking a gallon of water a day, he was down to about 140 pounds when he ended his fast the following May. At the time, he said he decided he could "get as much done by campaigning for president than by dying."
He ran for president in 1988.
Charles Latif Hyder was an Albuquerque High graduate who served in the Air Force during the Korean War. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees at the University of New Mexico and his doctorate at the University of Colorado.
Ellen Thomas said Hyder worked for NASA, the University of California at Los Angeles, UNM and the Southwest Research and Information Center.
She said a solar flare was named after Hyder in the early 1970s because he figured out what caused it.
In Russia, a Ural Mountains' pass was also named after him. He even had a May Day float in Red Square named in his honor during his fast, she said.
"Despite whatever flaws he might have had in his personality, he was really dedicated in trying to fix the problems (of nuclear weapons) as creatively and effectively as he could," she said. "And he was committed to nonviolence."
Among his other protests was an 82-day fast in 1999 to oppose nuclear waste dumping at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad.
Although he did not succeed in preventing WIPP, Hyder's expert testimony in Germany helped the country decide not to bury nuclear waste in its salt mines, Ellen Thomas said.
Hyder was also known as an intelligent, curious individual who considered himself a caring person, said Don Hancock, an Albuquerque friend.
"Charles in some ways was hard to characterize," he said. "I think he took some pride in that."
Survivors include his children, Paul, Roxanne, Querida and Niels; brother, Donald; sister, Josala; and eight grandchildren.