from The Bridge: Fall/Winter 2011 issue
Many of John Evans' former students credit the retired English professor with pushing them beyond their perceived boundaries, both inside and outside of academics. He convinced his students to take full advantage of the four years of liberal arts education available to them at Washington and Lee, and he expanded their horizons by taking them to England.
And so, 10 years ago, several of Evans' former protégées, including Billy Webster '79, spearheaded the establishment of the John M. Evans Endowment for International Studies to support study in England. It was announced at the black-tie dinner in honor of Evans' retirement.
Webster, who majored in English and German, studied in Germany on a Fulbright while at W&L. "It was a special night in Lexington," recalled Thad Ellis '82, P'14, senior vice president, Cousins Properties Inc., Atlanta. "There were a significant number of his former students there; he had that impact on so many people. We all told stories about John. He is a great guy and an incredible friend. It was brilliant on Billy's part to come up with the idea."
Ellis, who chaired last year's Annual Fund and is heading this year's as well, divided his campaign gift among the Annual Fund, an indoor recreation and athletics facility, and another fund that honors the professor: the John M. Evans Fund for International Student Experiences for all study abroad. It now has $1 million in commitments. "It was pretty simple in all three cases," Ellis says. "The experience as chair of the Annual Fund has helped me better appreciate its importance and power as a backbone of fund-raising and consistent giving to W&L. I am trying to be a leader by giving a meaningful gift to show it is important, to me, to my wife Beth, and my daughter, Laura." Laura is a member of the Class of 2014.
As a student, Ellis traveled to England with Evans on a study-abroad program. "I had several great professors at Washington and Lee, but John Evans stood out above the rest," said Ellis, who majored in economics but took Evans' advice not to spend all four years in the Williams School. "He even got me to take an art history class. I bet I know three or four dozen great guys through John that I wouldn't have met without his introduction. When he heard I was going to Atlanta, he gave me a list of guys who he thought I should meet."
At the top of that list was Craig Jones '73, executive vice president and chief investment officer of Cousins Properties Inc., another of Evans' former advisees. "John told Thad to call me when he moved to Atlanta, and I tried to help him with networking and finding employment. We became close friends during the process. Through John, I know W&L grads who are up to 25 years younger than me. There is a whole network of guys who were John's advisees," explains Jones.
"John was an advisor in every sense, not just the academic side. He went above and beyond. It was not just about your course load, it was about your whole life," he continued. "My relationship with him was not unusual, and he had those relationships with hundreds of guys over the course of his teaching career."
"John Evans changed the trajectory of my life," Jones continues. "I had planned to be a math or physics major when I entered W&L." After taking Evans' freshman English course, Jones made him his advisor. "He convinced me to be an English major, even though it was not my strong suit. He pushed me to be better in that area, and the teaching and literature to which I was exposed changed the way I thought. He influenced me to go to law school and helped me decide which school to go to. Because of him, I have also become a life-long reader," notes Jones.
Michael R. McAlevey '86, vice president, general counsel and head of business development for GE Aviation, in Cincinnati, Ohio, also credits Evans with making a great difference in his life. McAlevey, who speaks with Evans at least every few weeks, says, "He was my advisor since my freshman year and continues to be until this day."
McAlevey, a member of the Campaign Cabinet, had planned to be a business and accounting major, "but John convinced me to spend four years working on a broad liberal education. He said that I could always learn business by going to graduate school, or better, by just doing it."
McAlevey went on a Spring Term foreign-study program and understands its benefits. "Working for a large global business has made me keenly aware that American students compete for opportunities in a global environment. Today our students are not just competing with someone in the next town or state, but also with students from Shanghai and Mumbai. Students should learn what they are up against and develop the skills to compete globally and make decisions as part of a global community," McAlevey observes.
"We get thank-you notes, usually including some colorful experience, every year from students who have benefited from the scholarship," says Ellis.
"I really like the fact that this is a scholarship, although frankly I would have honored anything with John's name on it," adds Jones. "I know the University as a whole has placed an emphasis on international study, but how does someone without the financial resources benefit from that? All students should be able to experience everything that the University has to offer."
H. Lamar "Mickey" Mixson '70, a partner at Bondurant, Mixson & Elmore L.L.P., in Atlanta, made a significant contribution to establish the John M. Evans English Scholarship, which honors Evans' impact on generations of students and is a permanently endowed fund providing scholarship support for outstanding English majors.
"John Evans was a mentor and a good friend when I was an undergraduate," says Mixson. Like many of Evans' protégées, Mixson had no intention of being an English major until he took Evans' freshman English class. "John Evans was such an interesting teacher and delightful guy, he inspired by example to go into English," says Mixson. "This would have been back in 1967, when John was relatively new to the school, and had not yet gained the reputation as a mentor and teacher that he later had."
With his gift, Mixson hopes to assist the English Department as well as deserving students. "I like the idea of a liberal arts education," he says. "I think it makes for a more well-rounded individual and gives a person more dimension than they might have if they went into a professional program."
This is not the first scholarship that Mixson has established at W&L. He is grateful to have benefited from a scholarship himself, without which he says he would not have been able to attend Washington and Lee. "I'm a parent of two children, one in college, and one a recent graduate. Education is a very expensive proposition," Mixson explains. "It is important to me that students have access to higher education regardless of their ability to pay. If there were no scholarships, a very deserving and talented segment would be excluded."
Mixson believes scholarships are second in importance only to professors' salaries. "I am glad to see so many students at W&L on some form of scholarship or aid. I went through both undergraduate and law school on scholarships. They were indispensable to my being where I am today, in a position to be able to give back scholarships."