Editor's note: This article first appeared at The American Spectator.
"I need to call Stan," I told my kids as I dropped them off. It was Sunday, which was always a good day to reach Stan Evans. When he needed me, he usually called on Sunday evenings. And when Stan wanted to talk, he kept calling until he got you. He was conservative all right–so much so that modern technologies like voicemail and (most of all) email were not options.
No, Stan preferred old stuff, especially Cold War documents on yellowed, wrinkled paper, listing names of so-called "progressives" who, Stan slowly confirmed year after year, were often not merry liberals but closet communists doing the dirty work of Moscow. And yet through it all–the documents and double-dealing and deceit–Stan always maintained his renowned humor. "Happiness is finding a declassified list of closet communists," he once told me with a laugh.
Now, it was February 8 (which I know from my phone log), and I needed to call Stan.
I had been working on a new project, looking at the cultural Marxists from the Frankfurt School who peddled a noxious form of Freudian-Marxism intended to wreak havoc on the family, marriage, and other traditional institutions. I knew Stan was not doing well. The previous June, he told us about a terminal cancer. One doctor gave him weeks to months. Another was more optimistic. The normally optimistic Stan was leaning toward the pessimist's prognosis. It turned out he had nine months to go.
Stan thus needed to move quickly on certain things. He told me he wanted to give me his cherished McCarthy papers, the basis for the book that became a life's work, Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies. I had not asked for his papers and told him I was flattered and honored. He wanted to give me additional papers, but I eventually convinced him to give them to an established archive. The McCarthy papers, however, he was adamant about.
On that, my notes show that he called me four times within about 36 hours last July 27-28. Something was pressing him. He explained right off. After telling me had been undergoing "a lot of chemotherapy" and was "very tired," he added quite insistently: "I want you to have the McCarthy material."
It wasn't just that he trusted me with the material, and that I would make use of it, but he had "great respect and fondness" for Grove City College, where I teach. He had spoken here in the 1966-67 academic year, and then three decades later was recognized with an honorary degree in 1996, of which he was immensely proud.
Stan began mailing me the McCarthy materials in large Fed-Ex packages. A few days after a package would be sent, he would call, with the name "Medford Evans" (also his father's name) appearing on our home phone receiver. "That's Stan," my wife would announce.
Stan would carefully explain the things he had just handed off. The information was too valuable to take to the grave. Any questions I had on anything related to certain spies, dupes, agents of influence, "Stalin pals," and so forth, he urged me to ask before time ran out.
So, on this day, February 8, I stopped in the church parking lot, dropped off the kids, and entered Stan's number. There was no answer, which was normal. His custom was to let the phone ring, check the number, and call right back. I started pulling out of the lot into a snowstorm when the phone rang back.
"Stan, how are you?" I asked. I was shaken by the response. His voice was the weakest I had ever heard. I immediately pulled into another church lot across the street. I could barely understand what he was saying. I felt terrible about that.
I asked him about Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School guys. I hadn't seen much of them in his books, including his and the late Herb Romerstein's superb Stalin's Secret Agents. "Two names," he almost whispered. "Richard Sorge and Franz Neumann." The names didn't roll out that easily. Barely audible, he said them repeatedly until I finally discerned them. I scratched them on page 136 of a nearby book on the subject by one of Stan's late friends, another great Cold Warrior, Ralph de Toledano.
Even when he had been undergoing chemo treatments and blood transfusions, Stan's voice was strong. He would crack some good jokes and identify some bad communists while the blood was pouring.
But this conversation was different. He knew it and I knew it. He told me he had been in and out of the hospital recently and was now being "sent home." I figured what that meant. He told me that neither he nor his voice would be improving this time.
To try to lighten up the situation, I mentioned the upcoming CPAC. Stan had given a moving and witty speech at CPAC the year before, in what turned out to be his swan song. "That was my last speech," he told me not long after it happened. It wasn't totally clear if he meant it was his most recent speech or his last speech. It turned out to be the latter. The person responsible for arranging that speech made a truly inspired decision.
I asked Stan if he was planning to attend CPAC this year, sensing that was impossible. "Oh, no," he told me stoically. "I won't be leaving the house anymore."
I told him I'd keep praying for him. He thanked me as always, and we said goodbye.
I planned to call Stan again–actually during my drive home from CPAC. I stupidly didn't. He died three days later.
Men like Stan Evans are a rarity. He was as much a humorist as a conservative intellectual. He was a very funny man, always smiling, always joking, always happy, always livening up a room. He spent decades doing so much for the conservative movement with countless articles, interviews, and public appearances. He spent his final years writing important books on the epic battles of the 20th century, adding "Cold War historian" to his list of identities. That was how I came to know him. He was excited about a book he was doing on Dean Acheson, who, he told me, "has been viewed as this great Cold Warrior, but for a long time was anything but." That book will not be written.
Men like Stan, and Herb Romerstein and Ralph de Toledano and (for that matter) Arnold Beichman and James Juliana (another close ally of Stan), all of whom died in the last few years, were so adept at Cold War research because they knew the figures who were involved, the good guys and the bad guys. When they leave us, it makes our ability to connect old but crucial dots so much harder. They were encyclopedias of knowledge who, unfortunately, could not download the information packed in their remarkable minds before they departed for the next world.
Not that Stan didn't try. He placed an enormous amount of material online, but material that really only the likes of Stan and Herb and their fellow warriors fully understood. One afternoon at his office in Washington about five years ago, I sat with Stan and Herb and Herb's wife, Pat, while they tried to explain a bunch of material to me. It was like an hour-long tutorial on air-traffic control.
"We'll never know even half of it, Paul," Stan would tell me as we sighed at the long lists of Americans who directly or indirectly served Stalin and Soviet interests after World War II. I sigh today knowing that I'll never know even half of what he knew.
Stan Evans was a gem. The conservative movement has lost one of its most beloved figures. May he rest in peace, reconnecting with all of his friends from the 20th century that he knew so well–and may we honor him by continuing his work.
--Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama's Mentor and Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.