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.

Joel Connelly

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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