Obituary: Thomas Hargrove risked his life to feed world's poor
GALVESTON — Thomas Rex Hargrove , whose 11 months of captivity by Colombian guerillas formed the basis for the movie Proof of Life, died Saturday of heart failure. He was 66.
Hargrove, who moved to Galveston with his wife, Susan, in 1996, risked his life as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War to bring high-yield rice to the Mekong Delta, dramatically improving the lives of Vietnamese farmers.
After the war, he became a writer and editor with the International Rice Research Institute and devoted his life to bringing the "Green Revolution" to poverty-stricken areas of the world.
"He loved being part of something that was helping feed the world's poor," said Miles Hargrove, 38, of Dallas, Hargrove's eldest son.
Writer of songs, memoirs
Hargrove wrote country-western songs; he also wrote two books, a memoir of his Vietnam experience, A Dragon Lives Forever: War and Rice in Vietnam's Mekong Delta 1969-1991 and Beyond and a memoir of his 11 months in captivity, Long March to Freedom.
He became a security consultant, discovered a Spanish colonial city hidden beneath the waters of a Philippine lake, and traced the origins of a strain of rice discovered in the Amazon to South Carolina.
Hargrove was born March 3, 1944, in Rotan, one of three children of Tom and Bargy Hargrove. He received a double degree in agricultural science and journalism from Texas A&M University in 1966.
In 1969, he was made agricultural adviser for the Military Assistance Command in Chuong Thien, one of Vietnam's deadliest provinces. Traveling mostly by sampan on canals and rivers, Hargrove spread the newly developed IR8 high-yield rice variety that doubled and tripled crops.
After the war, he visited Vietnam on another agricultural mission and met Viet Cong veterans who told him they had him in their sights but let him live because he was doing so much good.
Captured by FARC
In 1991, he went to work for the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia. As he drove to work Sept. 23, 1994, he was captured at a roadblock by the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC.
He escaped death several times before his family paid two ransoms and he was released in August 1995. Released in the jungle, he walked for two days and finally stumbled into a house in Cali where he was greeted by his family. Hargrove kept a diary written on scraps of paper that he used to write his book.
The movie loosely based on his story — Proof of Life, starring Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe — opened in 2000. Younger son Geddie Hargrove, 37, of Dallas, said his father liked the movie, despite the liberties it took with the facts.
Hargrove friend Merle Shepard, a biologist at Clemson University in South Carolina, recalled how Hargrove discovered an underwater Spanish colonial city while they were skin diving in Lake Taal, a volcanic lake in the Philippines.
Sleuthing by Hargrove later found that a strain of rice, Carolina gold, found in the Amazon was brought by Confederate soldiers from South Carolina who immigrated to Brazil after the Civil War.
Hargrove is survived by his brother, Raford Hargrove of Rotan; sister Becky McKinney of Angleton; sons Miles and Geddie, both of Dallas; and grandson Everett.
Services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist of Rotan, 209 North McKinley. Burial will follow at the family cemetery.
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