Social thinker: Ridgefield's John Scott, hands-on journalist

John Scott

John Scott

Contributed photo / Hearst Connecticut Media

When John Scott worked with his hands, it was not just to type his eight books, scores of white papers, and countless Time magazine articles. The journalist began his career as a welder in Russia, and, when he came to Ridgefield in 1948, built his stone-and-wood Peaceable Ridge home with his own hands.

Son of liberal social reformer, Scott Nearing, John Scott Nearing was born in Philadelphia in 1912. He dropped his father’s name after a disagreement. During the Depression the 20-year-old college drop-out was intrigued by communism and socialism, learned welding, and headed for Russia to work in a Urals factory as a welder. He became a foreman and finally a chemist.

There he married Maria “Masha” Dikareva, daughter of illiterate peasants. Thanks to Russia’s free education system, Masha had studied mathematics and chemistry at a Moscow institute; her siblings included two teachers, two engineers, two doctors, an economist, and a college dean.

Scott lost his job in Stalin’s 1937 purge, but remained in Russia as a French and British news correspondent. In 1940, he was expelled for “slandering” Soviet foreign policy.

He then covered World War II for Time magazine. After the war he reopened Time’s Central European bureau, reporting on the war’s aftermath. He wrote books and delivered lectures on world affairs to such groups as the Foreign Policy Association.

In 1948, he moved to Time’s Manhattan offices, but took a year off to build his Peaceable Ridge home (recently razed to make way for a bigger place). Scott’s house had many walls of rock, beams from local trees, and no nails — he employed old-style wooden pegs with mortise and tenon joints. He made most of the furniture, also without nails.

The Scotts often entertained at dinner parties and outdoor poolside gatherings — Vice President Henry Wallace of South Salem was a frequent visitor.

In 1951 he joined the inner staff of Time-Life publisher Henry Luce, also of Ridgefield, doing in-depth reporting on Latin America, the Soviet Union and the Middle East. Over 17 years he wrote 12 reports that Time distributed to leaders in government, education and business. He also lectured widely, especially at colleges and universities.

His first book, Beyond the Urals (1942), described his experiences in the Soviet steel mill. His others included Europe in Revolution (1945), Democracy Is Not Enough (1960), China, The Hungry Dragon (1967), Hunger: Man’s Struggle to Feed Himself (1969), Detente Through Soviet Eyes (1974), and Millions Will Starve (1975).

In Ridgefield he belonged at first to the Democratic Club, but later became a Republican and promoted more conservative policies, including the Vietnam war.

While on a speaking tour in 1976, he suffered a stroke and died at age 64. Masha died in 2004 at 92.—Jack Sanders