Thomas W. Evans, Former TC Board Chair, Is Dead at 82
Published in In Memoriam
Thomas W. Evans, a prominent lawyer, statesman, author and educator who chaired TC’s Board of Trustees from 1991 through 1998, passed away earlier this month at his home in Bay Harbour Islands, Florida. He was 82.
Evans’ “day job” was as a partner in the New York firm of Mudge, Rose, Guthrie, Alexander and Ferdon, and later as Chief of Counsel to Andrews & Kurth LLP. He also served as an advisor to two U.S. Presidents – Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush – and assisted a third, Richard Nixon, in his successful 1968 and 1972 campaigns. (He is quoted in the book Richard M. Nixon: Politician, President, Administrator, edited by Leon Friedman and William F. Levantrosser).
Evans drew on his firsthand knowledge of Reagan for his book The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of his Conversion to Conservatism (2006), which detailed GE executive Lemuel Boulware’s political mentorship of the former president.
Evans was a passionate believer in the power of education. He was the author of two books on the topic (The School in the Home, 1973, and Mentors: Making a Difference in Our Public Schools, 1992), served on national commissions, helped found a high school in New York City, and created programs that engaged the private sector in mentoring urban youth. He also taught in TC’s Department of Educational Administration.
”I have always felt that education's role is to straighten out the many problems of our society,” he said in June 2000, when the College unveiled a portrait of him to honor his board service. “The impact of Teachers College has been doubly and triply felt in solving those problems.”
During the Reagan administration, Evans founded and chaired the annual National Symposium on Partnerships in Education, which was initially sponsored by the White House. He also founded MENTOR, a program in law-related education that paired 55 law firms with public schools throughout New York City. The program was later replicated in more than 20 states and Canada.
In 1987, Evans, along with New York City Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward, was appointed co-chair of a commission to develop an Institute for Law and Justice, a high school within Martin Luther King, Jr. High School in Manhattan.
Evans joined TC’s board in 1985 and in 1991 succeeded Barbara Goodman as chair. The news was greeted with widespread enthusiasm.
“When I became Chancellor of the New York City Public Schools, Thomas Evans was one of the first people here to reach out to me to offer both his personal and professional assistance to improve educational services for our nearly one million children,” said Joseph Fernandez, who was then serving as New York City Schools Chancellor. “Because he cares so deeply about education and about young people, I am sure that he will do an outstanding job as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Teachers College.”
During Evans’ tenure, which spanned the presidencies of Michael Timpane and Arthur Levine, the College established The National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST); launched The Heritage School, a high school in East Harlem that gives the arts full parity in its curriculum; and earned ranking as the nation’s top graduate school of education by U.S. News and World Report (a distinction frequently repeated in subsequent years).
“I joined the Board just before Tom stepped down, and he was very much the senior statesman whom I looked up to,” said Bill Rueckert, current Co-Chair of TC’s Board. “He was very accomplished, had a tremendous range of experience in several fields, and there was simply the sense that he was someone who should be listened to when he spoke. Yet he really was as gentleman of the old school. He was very humble, he never bragged about what he had achieved, and as someone who had come from a prominent family and enjoyed every advantage, he also had a deep and sincere belief in the importance of helping other people.”
Jack Hyland, the Board’s other current Co-Chair, recalled that Evans “really bridged eras at TC, and his great contribution was to help lay the groundwork for the College’s ultimate transformation into a truly 21st-century institution. He led the search that identified Arthur Levine as a candidate, and he saw the value in Arthur’s fresh perspective as someone who did not have a background at Teachers College.”
Hyland recalled that Evans took great delight in teasing Levine about his famously rumpled appearance.
“At one meeting early on, when Tom was introducing Arthur, he said, ‘I’m very proud that Arthur is our president, and I want to share you with one of Arthur’s secrets. Every day his wife hands him a newly pressed suit, and just before speaking to an audience, Arthur takes the suit into a closet and rumples the hell out of it.’ And of course, then Arthur, looking just as rumpled as advertised, stood up to speak, and he got a tremendous kick out of it. The two of them had a great camaraderie.”
Thomas W. Evans was born in New York City and grew up in Garden City, Long Island. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Williams College, where he was a classmate of the future shipping magnate and New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Evans later held a minority stake in the Yankees and briefly served as the team’s general counsel.
Evans received his law degree in 1958 from Columbia Law School, where he served for many years on the Board of Visitors. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War, serving as a platoon infantry leader and earning a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts. He subsequently co-chaired the Korean War Veterans Memorial Commission, through the efforts of which a statue in New York’s Battery Park, “The Universal Soldier” was dedicated in June 1991 to Americans, Koreans and nationals of 20 other countries who served in the Korean War. The Commission also funded scholarships for American students to attend Korean universities.
Evans achieved national prominence as a litigator. He served as president of the Federal Bar Council, an association of over 2,000 lawyers and judges in the Second Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. He also authored the book Admissions Practice, which dealt with changes in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and their implications for trial strategies, and co-authored the book Nuclear Litigation, published in the wake of the Three Mile Island accident. He chaired the Practicing Law Institute’s panel on the latter subject. He served on the faculty of New York Law School and lectured extensively on legal topics.
Read The Washington Post’s story on Thomas W. Evans