Memo To: St. Peter
From: Jude Wanniski
When I opened the New York Post Saturday morning and saw that Rowlie Evans had died on Friday, the news jarred me, but I was only moderately surprised. I’d heard from his longtime partner Bob Novak last August that Rowlie had cancer of the esophagus, but Bob said he was doing okay and seemed to be responding to treatment. I’d talked to Rowlie only once by telephone in the months since and could see he typically was not going to let it bother him. He was going skiing. Patricia and I saw him on their CNN show two weeks earlier and could see he’d lost a little weight, but thought he seemed as vigorous and sharp as he’s always been. The Post, which had been running the Evans&Novak column for as long as I can remember, had a little story and a picture of him. After I absorbed the news of a friend of almost 20 years, I turned in my chair and facing upstairs, called to Patricia and told her that Rowlie had died. The reason I’m writing this memo to you, St. Pete, is that when Patricia came out of the bedroom, she looked down and said, “Well, Heaven will be a happier place.”
What she meant, as you may already have discovered, is that in his nearly 80 years on earth, he didn’t spend much time being unhappy. It was a waste of energy, for Rowlie, who somehow managed to keep enough distance from the political world he covered so he could be playful about it. We got to know Rowlie over the last 16 years because of our “supply-side festivals,” annual four-day moveable political feasts that Polyconomics sponsored, with “the boys,” Bob and Rowlie, holding court from one year to the next, in Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico. He could ask any of our speakers just about anything, the toughest of questioners, and still seem the gentleman. Rowlie made this type of interview an art form. Although he may have made politicians the world over uncomfortable at times, he was never nasty, and he counted quite a few world leaders as friends. His work ethic was incredible. I wondered if he slept at all. He didn’t want to miss a trick. Tony Snow told a story yesterday on “Fox News Sunday” that illustrates this. He was dying, but still reporting; in pain, but attending news conferences and running circles around some of the other journalists in attendance. This was a fellow who loved his job, and loved his life. There were quite a few heartfelt tributes this weekend on the news shows, all well deserved, and all true.
Away from the microphone at CNN and the typewriter (then the computer), he had a wonderful sense of humor and a remarkable confidence in himself. A story I read in The New York Times Saturday in his obit, which I had not heard before, was vintage Rowlie. He was only a reporter for AP, just starting out. Then he saw Kay, his wife-to-be, and he promptly promoted himself to, and as, the Washington Bureau Chief, just to impress his lady fair. I discovered at one of the last conferences we had, that he could play the piano well, by ear, but began taking lessons in his retirement years just to see if playing another way was any different. He loved good food, a good joke and his Scotch on the rocks. As Patricia put it: “Rowlie was just plain fun. He winked at life.” He found joy in everything he did, at least for as long as I knew him, and that is a rare quality indeed. I always enjoyed being with him. I think Heaven and you, St. Peter, will find him the same.