Journalist M. Stanton Evans passed away at the age of 80 on March 3. Calling him “journalist,” while accurate, isn’t quite adequate. Yes, he became the youngest editor of a major metropolitan daily newspaper when named editor of The Indianapolis News at age 26, and later founded the National Journalism Center in Washington that trained such well-known writers as John Fund and Ann Coulter, but he was far more than a journalist.
Stan Evans authored important historical works including a daring book in which he challenged the conventional simplistic narrative about Joseph McCarthy, thereby placing himself squarely in the crosshairs of the anti-anti-communists (that is, the people who dislike anti-communists). In addition to the National Journalism Center, he also helped to found another conservative institution that is still going strong, Young Americans for Freedom. Indeed, as The New York Times stated in its excellent obituary, in 1960 Stan Evans drafted YAF’s founding document, “The Sharon Statement—so-called because the founding meeting was held at William F. Buckley Jr.’s home in Sharon, Conn.—drew on the major streams of conservative thought, including religious freedom, free-market economics and an unbending resistance to communism.”
In short, Evans was one of the founders of the modern conservative movement in America, as well as one of its funniest people (see this fond remembrance from National Review).
I crossed paths with Stan twice. The first time, I was a freshman in college in 1968. My church-related liberal arts college already had been captured by the left. We had these twice-a-week mandatory-attendance liberal/secular indoctrination sessions, euphemistically called “chapel” (no fooling!) and Stan Evans was the guest speaker one day. He stuck out like a sore thumb from all the others, both in appearance (a dark business suit with tie along with short, well-groomed hair) and in message (I don’t remember his topic, but do recall him being logical, reasonable, thoughtful, and dignified). In retrospect, I grew to realize that he was our campus’s token conservative, the sole fig leaf that the liberals superintending the ideological content of guest speakers could cite to demonstrate how open-minded and even-handed they were.
In the spring of 1981, at the same conference where I got to know President Reagan’s first Secretary of Energy, James B. Edwards, I bumped into Stan and had my only conversation with him. At the time, I wasn’t 100 percent certain that he had been the conservative outlier in my unrelentingly liberal undergraduate indoctrination, but he remembered the occasion, and we ascertained that I had, indeed, had the privilege of listening to this wise and erudite thinker some 12 or 13 years earlier.
We didn’t speak at length, but I remember admiring how straightforward and clear he was. There also seemed to be an undercurrent of humor, which, as the National Review obit cited above makes delightfully clear, was indeed a prominent component of Stan Evans’s personality.
I’m grateful that over the years, Grove City College, where I teach now, had Stan come to speak on a couple of occasions. In 1996, the College also awarded him an honorary doctorate. He deserved that honor—the highest a college can bestow—and it is to GCC’s credit that Stan’s importance and greatness were publicly acknowledged in that way. In fact, as pointed out by my colleague, Dr. Paul Kengor, who knew Stan very well, Stan was quite proud of that degree. Kengor says that Stan mentioned it often.
The conservative movement has lost one of its guiding lights. Content to operate in the background as an ideas man, but also as a practical organizer, M. Stanton Evans left a pronounced and beneficial mark on the course of our country’s history. For those of you interested in learning more, YouTube has a number of videos featuring this great American. RIP, Stan. And thank you.