When the news hit on March 3 that M. Stanton Evans was dead at age 80, the immediate thought on this reporter’s mind was: "Where do you begin to memorialize him?"
It’s true. Whether it was through one of the eight provocative books he wrote or in his capacity as the nation’s youngest (26 in 1960) newspaper editor at the Indianapolis News, or as chairman of the American Conservative Union during Ronald Reagan’s historic challenge of President Gerald Ford in 1976, or as founder and head of the National Journalism Center to train would-be reporters, "Stan" Evans touched the lives of many and moved them.
A magna cum laude graduate of Yale (Phi Beta Kappa) and onetime student of conservative economist Ludwig von Mises ("He helped me 'un-learn' all I learned at Yale"), Evans was inarguably an intellectual powerhouse behind the modern conservative movement.
He may be best remembered for writing the storied "Sharon Statement," the 368-word founding document of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom organization and named that because it was presented in 1960 at the Sharon, Connecticut, home of William F. Buckley Jr. (who had befriended the young Evans at Yale).
"Stan arrived at Sharon later than the rest of us and he looked like the young Humphrey Bogart, right down to his cigarette," recalled one of the participants, Annette Courtemanche, later the wife of conservative author and philosopher Russell Kirk. "He had written the Sharon Statement on the flight in and, word-for-word, it remained untouched when it was accepted at our meeting."
With its emphasis on individual freedom and small government, the Sharon Statement remains, after more than half a century, a cogent statement about what conservatism means in the 20th and 21st centuries.
A syndicated columnist and radio commentator in the early 1970s, Evans was one of the first conservatives to break with the Nixon administration over its Family Assistance Planning Program and other apostasies from the right-of-center agenda. In his words, "I was for Nixon after Watergate."
As national chairman of the American Conservative Union in 1976, Evans helped launch an independent effort on behalf of the insurgent Ronald Reagan in the North Carolina primary. In his first-ever primary victory outside California, Reagan defeated Gerald Ford in a dramatic upset and was on his way to a near-victory at the national convention that summer.
An intellectual who had an incredible recall for facts, dates, and quotes, Evans never took himself too seriously. His droll delivery, booming laugh, and ever-present cigarette could put the most serious or cynical of companions at ease.
A few years ago, amid his research on a book that he believed would vindicate Sen. Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisc., and his investigations of communism in the U.S. government, Evans called this reporter. He had just had a "find" within a government archives and wanted to have lunch.
Evans' "find" was just that. It was the "Lee List," a list of government employees considered major security risks in a probe that came a few years before McCarthy and the actual document he cited in his 1950 Wheeling, West Virginia, speech. Democrats had long dismissed it as a product of McCarthy’s imagination.
"And every one of these names was a legitimate security risk and under investigation by the Truman administration," Evans told me when we met, handing me a copy of the document. "This is what McCarthy was talking about. It exists. Take a look — but don’t let it get into the ketchup on your cheeseburger!"
He proudly let all know that he had never "surfed the net" or even used a computer, did not watch DVDs, and, until the last few years of his life, did not own a cellphone. High-tech outlets were fine, he would say, "but not for me."
Evans did his research and fact-checking the way he always did — going to libraries or archives or driving himself to interview someone — and then proofreading the copy he had typed on his manual typewriter.
One part of technology that made Stan Evans bristle was the reliance many young people had placed on the net for research and proofreading. Even before "Wikipedia" was found to have input from anyone that wasn’t necessarily true and "spellcheck" was correcting only the words in its dictionary, Evans loathed both.
Recalling a semester he had taught at Troy University in Alabama, and how he confronted a young lady who submitted a term paper full of spelling errors, Evans repeated to this reporter the explanation she gave him for the misspellings: "They weren’t in the spellcheck, Mr. Evans."
"I’ll give her a spellcheck, all right!" he growled.
In 1974, Evans launched the Washington, D.C.-based, National Journalism Center to train young would-be journalists. Among the graduates of the program have been author and frequent "National Review" and Newsmax commentator John Fund and Terry Moran, host of ABC News' "Nightline." Hundreds of others have gone through the NJC and enjoyed the speakers and internships at various news outlets in Washington.
"I learned interviewing skills, researching, and other forms of information gathering all in a dusty library — without computers, mobile phones, Internet or any other 21st century conveniences," recalled NJC graduate Jenny Kefauver in PolitiChicks. "I scored exclusive interviews with political candidates, media personalities, elected officials, and learned various procedures to gather information from various government entities. I loved every minute of it."
Kefauver, who owns her own public relations firm, says she would not be where she is without Stan Evans and the NJC.
Stan Evans remained the teacher with a laugh and a wink. A few years ago, this reporter remarked that the South had gone from solidly Democratic to Republican and this was first predicted in Kevin P. Phillips' "The Emerging Republican Majority" in 1969. Evans, who was within earshot, gently but firmly remarked that he had foreseen the same change in "The Future of Conservatism," written two years before Phillips’ book. A few days later, he brought a first edition.
"You can keep it, provided you read it," he said, "And remember: there will be a pop quiz when you’re done."
John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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