If you’re lucky in life, people will show up to point you in the right direction, and you may not even know it.
For me, Evelyn Hansen was that person.
Evelyn was the mother of Keith Hansen, whom I met in Arden Hills, Minn., in the Johanna Junior High School cafeteria. I was 12, and we became fast friends in 1972. We have stayed in close touch ever since.
At the time, my home life was, shall we say, not what I wanted, so I spent a lot of time at Keith’s house.
Evelyn was a professor at the University of Minnesota, and her husband, Bob, could have given Garrison Keillor tips on how to be the ideal Minnesotan. Keillor acts like he’s from Brooklyn compared to Bob, whom we referred to as “R.G.”
R.G. and Evelyn sensed that something was missing in my life, and they filled it. Along with Keith, they took me to plays at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, or the U bookstore. Mostly, I would hang around and read in her library.
We talked about all sorts of things: books, music, art and Watergate. Watergate was my hobby, and I was very interested in politics. I had hoped to run for governor of Minnesota.
I lacked wrestling abilities, so governor’s chair wasn’t going to work out.
One day, Keith and I were hanging out in his room, adorned with the obligatory Bob Dylan poster, an electric typewriter and a Minnesota Vikings poster.
Evelyn came in and handed me a copy of the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper at the university. She said, “There’s an ad here for a political cartoonist for the Daily. You should apply for that.”
My high school journalism adviser, Peg Rinehart, had also suggested that I should become a cartoonist, but I dismissed it at the time. After all, I was destined to be governor.
I was going to the University of Minnesota, with no fixed plan. I had considered the Navy, but my dad, an Army vet, talked me out of it. I was drifting.
So, I went down to the Daily armed with cartoons from my high school newspaper, along with some comic books I had created.
My interview was rather brief, but the two editors, Kate Stanley and Brian Howell, liked my work. Kate asked, “Tell me about William F. Buckley.”
Well, I was off to the races with my thoughts about Buckley. I had read several of his books, dipped into the National Review and watched “Firing Line.”
The Buckley question was a trick, really. She was trying to find out if knew anything about politics. I did. I also had worked as an intern at the Democratic Farmer Labor Party headquarters.
I was hired.
After moving to Portland, my family and I would go to Minnesota each year, or Evelyn and R.G. would come to Oregon along with Keith. My kids were like grandchildren to them, and they had R.G. and Evelyn experiences similar to my own.
R.G. passed away in 2004, and I felt like my own father had died. I spoke at his funeral.
Evelyn died last week at age 89.
People like Evelyn give in so many unheralded ways. She gave the world a son who went to Yale, Princeton and Stanford Law School, and is now vice president of the World Bank. He has set up hospitals all over Africa, for starters.
She helped a lonely boy find his way, and not just me. Hundreds of kids. Maybe thousands.
Rest in peace, Ev. You changed my life.