Stan Evans, Scholar-Comedian of the Conservative Movement, Passes at 80

M. Stanton Evans, the author of the Sharon Statement elucidating the guiding principles of Young Americans for Freedom, has passed away at 80. He leaves behind 10 books and 10,000 jokes.

“When Stan’s own dad died, Stan said his father’s life was marked by ‘unfailing dedication to principle and unfailing kindness to people,’” recalled longtime employee and friend Mal Kine. “This I dare say fits Stan to a T.”

The author of nearly a dozen books, the longtime editor of the Indianapolis News, the reins of which he took in his twenties, and a leading figure in such organizations as the American Conservative Union, Young Americans for Freedom, and the National Journalism Center, Evans made a reputation as much for his big personality as his big achievements.

“He had a tremendous sense of humor,” observed Young America’s Foundation President Ron Robinson, who told of sponsoring an Evans lecture at a Christian high school in Michigan on his book The Theme Is Freedom, which detailed the essential role of Christianity in spreading freedom in the West. “Yes, but enough of this Christianity,” Evans responded to Robinson’s congratulations after his weighty talk. “Let’s go get a drink.”

“He was such a brilliant person but he had the most off-the-wall sense of humor, which he really loved to inflict on people he didn’t know,” friend Debbie Lambert explained. “When he was in a group of people that were a bit stuffy that’s when he really showed his true colors.”

The Accuracy in Media director of special projects noted, “He was always commenting on current cultural trends, 99 percent of which he didn’t feel worthy of his notice.” This included computers, devices that both Lambert and Mal Kline remember him scorning to the end for manual typewriters. Behind a pallbearer’s face the jokester dryly quipped that if members of his generation didn’t grasp computers, not to worry, the gadgets were just a passing fad. Lambert described Evans as “a little like a Saturday Night Live skit.”

Mal Kline recalls Evans playing his favorite Elvis track, “Suspicious Minds,” five times in row to make a painful commute across Capitol Hill pleasing and the famous scholar being “immensely proud of having won a ‘Twist’ contest at 4 a.m. in Chicago” two decades after the Chubby Checker craze of the 1960s. Evans proudly displayed his prize: a bottle of Thunderbird.

“He was a maniac on the dance floor—fifties stuff to country music,” Lambert recalled. “Just a fantastic dancer.” He devoured cheeseburgers, tobacco, disco, and anything else that infused life with joy. He explained, “I always start the morning with black coffee and cigarettes because breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

But most knew Stan Evans as readers rather than drinking buddies. Ronald Reagan, counted among the numerous former group, called Evans during his presidency to express appreciation for an article he had written in Human Events, a paper weekly the commander-in-chief’s more moderate aides habitually hid from him.

“He was the lifeblood of [Young Americans for] Freedom early on,” Robinson, a college activist in the group, remembers. Young America’s Foundation’s president calls Evans “as powerful an intellect as anyone I’ve ever dealt with but he had a way of communicating ideas that the average American could understand. That was the essence of Stan.”

The quality showed most obviously in the Sharon Statement, the 1960 founding document of Young Americans for Freedom. In less than 500 words, the twentysomething Stan penned a series of principles that encapsulated conservatism as well today as it did a half century ago. The document stemming from a weekend at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut, expressed that “the market economy, allocating resources by the free play of supply and demand, is the single economic system compatible with the requirements of personal freedom and constitutional government” and judged American interventions abroad by the criterion: “does it serve the just interests of the United States?”

Though his writings attempted to bring the traditionalist and libertarian factions of conservatism together through fusionism, Evans focused on a more divisive subject in his last decades: Senator Joseph McCarthy. As his father had done decades earlier, Evans wrote a bound defense of the Wisconsin Republican: Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and His Fight against America’s Enemies.

“The book sold very well,” current ISI Books editor Jed Donahue points out. “It was one of the first books I acquired when I got to Crown in 2003, and I must say I don’t think I had much competition. Most publishers didn’t seem to get the project—I mean, redeem Joe McCarthy? It took several years for Stan to finish researching and writing. It really was a life’s work.

“But this wasn’t just perfectionism or the need to track down just one last source, which sometimes can consume historians and biographers. Stan was such a seasoned writer and editor that he was the best self-editor I have ever worked with. I did do a couple of fairly detailed edits on the entire manuscript. I would receive a revised manuscript back that would not bear my particular changes, but Stan’s brilliance was to have reworked the MS to fix the problems my edits had been pointing to and to make many more improvements beyond. And he was always a gentleman.”

Though his physiognomy and scholarship suggested a serious, sober figure, Evans’s personality screamed “life of the party.” His mentoring of aspiring members of the Fourth Estate through his classes at Troy University and his National Journalism Center, the works that live on the shelves of libraries, used bookstores, and private collections, and the succinct Sharon Statement all bequeath a massive legacy.

“The thirty years I have known him, two decades of which I worked for him, I saw an unending brigade of people troop to his door for advice and assistance, usually the latter,” Mal Kline points out, “and not once did I see him turn away anyone empty handed.”


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