Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers and Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: Rowland Evans
The following is the eulogy delivered by Robert D. Novak, long-time colleague and friend of Rowland Evans. Rowly, as Bob so poignantly reminds us, is one of those precious souls we meet in life who is so robustly multi-dimensional, he will seem always to be fresh in our memories.
Rowland Evans Remembrance by Robert D. Novak
Christ Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
March 28, 2001
Having spent his life in journalism writing thousands of columns and literally millions of words, Rowland Evans well knew how hard it was to get things exactly right. So it was with his well-meaning obituaries last Saturday.
The AP Report said he had been in poor health for years. In truth, until diagnosed with cancer last summer, it could be said he was the healthiest 79-year-old on the planet. Even for the past nine months, he was no invalid.
His oncologist said he had never quite seen a cancer patient like Rowly Evans. Two weeks before he died he was playing squash, appearing on television, climbing the mountain at his place in Culpepper, even making a deal to finally achieve his long-time desire to buy the top of the mountain and complete his ownership of it. As he entered the hospital with two days of life remaining and the bleak options were laid before him, he interrupted the doctor to talk about his chances for presiding over the Evans-Novak Political Forum next week.
The headline in The New York Times called him a conservative columnist. I guess he did end up as pretty conservative --this friend and ardent admirer of Jack and Robert Kennedy, this son of a liberal Democratic family on the conservative Philadelphia mainline who, at the behest of his New Deal father, delivered a speech -- in Marine uniform -- for Franklin Roosevelt in 1944.
When Kay Winton told her liberal father she had fallen in love with Rowly, she concluded by saying: "And, daddy, he's a liberal!" Nearly half a century later, her husband was singing the praises of Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich.
Still, I can think of words more descriptive of the whole man than conservative: reporter, patriot, mentor, competitor, even--and here using a description by his wife of 51 years -- rascal.
He rejoiced in his rascality and loved to talk about it -- about the time as Marine recruit at Parris Island, when he spotted an old buddy from the Kent School who was a Marine lieutenant. They decided to have a drink together, but where could an officer and an enlisted man go together? To go to the Officers Club, his friend dressed Rowly as an officer. All went well until Rowly spotted his own commanding officer at the bar. They tiptoed out to prevent their Marine careers from ending in court martial.
Most of you know the story of how Rowly, the lowest of the low in the Washington Bureau of the Associated Press, posed as Bureau Chief to interview Katherine for a job -- at 8 o'clock in the evening, no less.
And Rowly said the crowning achievement of his life came just a few years ago when he and his old friend Woody Redmond skated the frozen Potomac River before being halted and nearly arrested by police.
The skating incident also reflected one of the fiercest competitive spirits any of us have ever seen -- playing competitive ice hockey until he was 40, winning squash tournament after squash tournament at the Metropolitan Club into his 70s and ranked nationally among senior squash players, playing tennis or bridge or poker, shooting dice with friends for lunch at the Metropolitan Club, just trying to drive from Georgetown to Culpepper without hitting a stoplight. He could recite nearly every shot of the semi-final match in the national father-and-son tennis tournament when he was 17 years old.
He was a happy warrior, a delight at any dinner party, playing the piano, stirring up trouble. But beneath these high spirits burned the heart of a patriot -- the Yale freshman who stood in line on December 8, 1941 to enlist in the Marine Corps, exchanging the privileged life he had always known for combat at Guadalcanal.
His fierce passion for the security of his country was the prism through which all his journalism passed. It guided his greatest journalistic achievements -- his expose of Soviet Arms Control cheating in the 1970s that the U.S. government sought to hide, his informed forecasts of the fall of the Communist Empire in Czechoslovakia and Poland.
That passion embroiled Rowly in controversy when he refused to accept the government cover-up of the bombing of the U.S.S. Liberty in the Six-Day War. He could not let the reasons for the death of fellow Americans serving their country go unnoticed.
Rowland Evans was no deskbound columnist. In the tradition of his great friends the Alsop Brothers, he went everywhere -- and anywhere -- for a story: China, Southeast Asia, all over Eastern Europe, the Mideast, the Indian subcontinent. He skirted death in incidents in Vietnam and the Six-Day War.
He could not report on the independence movement in the Baltics without actually going to Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. When his father died, Rowly was reporting in Iraq -- awaiting a rare interview with Saddam Hussein. He flew to Philadelphia for the funeral, then flew back to Baghdad and that interview with the Iraqi dictator.
But the heart of his reporting was here in Washington. His sources were legion: the mighty of Washington and obscure staffers, CIA spooks and mysterious emigres. All were interrogated in the dining room of the Metropolitan Club.
In the last week, I have been contacted by so many younger people in the news business who told me how Rowly counseled them, gave them a helping hand. His was what Stew Alsop called the reporter's trade and he sought to pass it along to a newer generation.
If I may close with a strictly personal note, on the morning of Monday, December 17, 1963, returning to the Washington Bureau of The Wall Street Journal after my honeymoon, I found a batch of notes from a reporter for the New York Herald-Tribune whom I barely knew: Rowland Evans. When I called him, he asked me for lunch -- not at the Metropolitan Club by the way but at Blackie’s House of Beef. It was a lunch that changed my life and made my career.
The upshot was the Evans-Novak column, which lasted for 30 years until his retirement and a partnership of 38 years that continued in television and our newsletter. We had a thousand shouting arguments, often at the top of our voices. We never fought about money, hardly ever about ideology but frequently about what story to tell and how to tell it.
Rowland Evans was the life of every party, but he ceased being a Philadelphia society boy long ago in the Crucible of Combat as a Marine sergeant in the Solomon Islands. He was a tough Marine, an unabashed patriot, a great journalist and a faithful friend and colleague.
Rest in Peace, Rowly.