Lots of us have seen, and lampooned, those pictures of Nancy Reagan on the dais, starting adoringly at the Gipper as he delivered familiar material.
Nancy Bell Evans, Washington’s former First Lady, was of a different stripe. She and husband Dan, who also served a stint in the United States Senate, were a team for two-thirds of a century until her weekend death at age ninety.
“She always sat in the front row when he gave speeches in recent years,” said Barbara Stenson Spaeth, retired Seattle journalist, “And they must have had a signal — because she looked up at him and he watched her and when she let him know, he shut up, or perhaps more delicately, decided to ‘wind it up’. They were totally connected — one smart woman and he knew it.”
In his memoirs, published last year, the ex-Governor discussed Washington’s decision in 1970 to legalize abortion. Nancy Evans took the lead as organizer of a south Puget Sound chapter of Planned Parenthood. Reasonable Republicans were in the lead, in stark contrast to the party’s stance today.
In its obituary, The Seattle Times listed Nancy Evans’ cultural contributions, from restoring our governor’s mansion to championing the forever beleaguered State Capitol Museum, and the UW’s establishment of a Nancy Bell Evans Center for Nonprofits and Philanthropy. She was, said her sons, a “force of nature” who “propelled causes forward’ and offered “sage advice.”
She was also one tough cookie with no tolerance of pretense.
I recall a marvelous scene when “The Treasure Houses of Britain” exhibit opened at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. It was a social event for the ages, with Princess Diana upstaging Prince Charles and dancing at the White House with John Travolta.
My partner Mickie was visiting and we were touring older precincts of the National Gallery. We ran into Oregon United States Representative Jim Weaver, who pressed in my hand an invite to an exclusive showing of Treasure Houses and reception for members of Congress.
We toured the exhibit and received quizzical looks from members of Washington’s congressional delegation. Over sherry at the reception, two House wives started to press us: How did we get in? They were insistent.
Mickie pretended to be oblivious.
I locked eyes with Nancy Evans, who was highly amused at the status seekers. She and Senator Dan Evans engaged us in conversation as if we were natural invitees. They ended on a note of “Great to see you here.”
The Evanses never really took to D.C.
Governors make decisions. Senators engage in ceaseless negotiations.
At Nancy’s urging, Dan Evans took to carpentry so as to have the feeling that he had actually accomplished something at the end of a frustrating day,
The senator did write a million acre Washington Wilderness bill. Nancy Evans stood aloof from the guy-culture of an outdoorsman husband, three sons and her brother Bill Bell. She was, however, always present to critique the Big Guy, now ninety-eight and visibly aging of late.
Nancy Evans will be remembered for an achieving life well lived. She went far beyond renovating a mansion, embracing a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions, and pursuing an array of interests and good works.