Nan McEvoy Dies at Age 95. Early Deputy Director of the Africa Region and Head of Talent Search

Nan McEvoy, an early employee of the Peace Corps, is listed in a March 27, 2015 in the San Francisco Chronicle as a founding staff member of the Peace Corps. True enough. She was the first deputy in the African Region and in the summer of 1962 traveled through eight African counties for an “on-the-spot survey of Peace Corps project. Later, she became head of the Talent Search Office at the agency, following Bill Haddad, Glenn Ferguson, Franklin Williams, Willy Warner, Jay Rockefeller IV, and Bill Wister, in the job of finding overseas Reps. She was one of the few (and famous) early women Peace Corps Staff members.


Nan Tucker McEvoy

Nan Tucker McEvoy, the last member of The San Francisco Chronicle‘s founding family to run the 150-year-old newspaper and a prominent olive oil producer, philanthropist and Democratic Party activist, died Thursday morning at age 95.

Her death was confirmed by her son, Nion McEvoy. She passed away peacefully at her apartment in San Francisco after a long convalescence.

The granddaughter of M.H. de Young, co-founder of The Chronicle, Mrs. McEvoy was the longtime chair of the board of Chronicle Publishing, which included the morning daily, KRON-TV, Chronicle Books and other media holdings.

“Nan McEvoy was a wonderful, creative woman who will be missed,” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said. “Whether she was helping get the Peace Corps program off the ground, overseeing The Chronicle or building one of the best olive oil companies in the country, Nan always did things at full speed.”

While she never held a day-to-day management job at any of the family media companies, Mrs. McEvoy had been a cub reporter and was a reassuring force when turbulence hit the newspaper industry in the 1990s. The joint operating agreement that had made business partners of the morning Chronicle and afternoon Examiner, which was owned by Hearst Corp., was rocked by diminishing revenue and labor strife that led to a short strike in 1994.

Boosting staff morale

Shortly afterward, various branches of the de Young family heirs became interested in selling Chronicle Publishing. But Mrs. McEvoy held the largest single share of the company and moved from her longtime home in Washington, D.C., to oversee the company while announcing that it was not for sale.

“She seemed to be the last member of the family who cared about the people who worked here, and that was important to us,” said Carl Nolte, who has been a reporter at The Chronicle since 1961.

To see her in the publisher’s suite or moving through the newsroom was a morale booster to the staff and, though she did not prevail against the sale of the company in the end, she put up a good fight.

“She was a champion of the newspaper and a true believer in journalism,” said Nion McEvoy. And though Mrs. McEvoy lived her entire life amid great wealth, she never took to the leisure class or the conservative line that was expected.

“She was a huge democrat with a lowercase d. I don’t think anybody ever accused her of being a snob,” said McEvoy, CEO of Chronicle Books (not affiliated with the Hearst-owned Chronicle).

After Chronicle Publishing was sold to the Hearst Corp. in 1999, Mrs. McEvoy turned her prodigious energy to ranching with the goal of producing the finest olive oil possible. McEvoy Ranch Extra Virgin Olive Oil has been rated among the best in the world by magazines ranging from Saveur to Consumer Reports.

A founding staff member of the Peace Corps, and special assistant to its first director, Sargent Shriver, she was committed to public service and philanthropy, later serving as a board member of UCSF, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the San Francisco Symphony and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington.

“Nan McEvoy was a trailblazing, entrepreneurial woman – whose courage, generosity, and wisdom reminded us of our responsibility to improve our communities and our world,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. “Our country has lost a pioneer woman, our community has lost a gracious leader, and our family has lost a dear friend.”

“I always admired her passion and her dedication to so many other causes that were near and dear to her heart,” U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said.

Phyllis Ann Tucker was born on July 15, 1919, in San Mateo, the daughter of Nion R. Tucker, a business executive who helped consolidate a number of small airlines into United Airlines, and Phyllis de Young Tucker, one of the four daughters of M.H. de Young.

As a child, Mrs. McEvoy recalled that she “grew up in Burlingame in the days when you had to ride a pony cart just to get an ice cream cone. In the summer, we farmed in Oregon in blue jeans or swimming suits.”

After graduating from Dominican Convent Upper School in San Rafael in 1937, she was discouraged from attending college by family members who wanted her to be a socialite. Years later, Mrs. McEvoy took business courses at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to prepare herself for a more active role on The Chronicle’s board of directors.

Her only sibling, Nion R. Tucker Jr., was a Marine lieutenant during World War II and died of wounds suffered in theIwo Jima landing – one of the war’s bloodiest battles.

Journalistic scoops

During the war, Mrs. McEvoy worked at The Chronicle in San Francisco, winning her first reporting job there when she staged a sit-down protest in the office of her uncle, Chronicle Publisher George Cameron. She worked first as a writer on the staff of This World, the paper’s Sunday news review, and then in 1945 helped cover the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco.

William German, the late editor of The Chronicle, was then directing the paper’s coverage of the United Nations and recalled that Mrs. McEvoy scored many journalistic scoops from her access to the diplomats who invited her to social functions where insiders negotiated some of the difficult issues involved in the organization’s birth. Her biggest scoop occurred when she obtained a copy of the new U.N. Charter a day before it was released – giving The Chronicle a worldwide exclusive.

In 1946, she left San Francisco to work as a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and the Washington Post. Two years later, she married publishing executive Dennis McEvoy. When the marriage fell apart, she became the first member of her Roman Catholic family to obtain a divorce.

After the war, Mrs. McEvoy lived in Washington for four decades. She was close to Washington Post PublisherKatharine Graham, and the two women were thereafter joined as strong women in the heretofore man’s world of newspaper publishing.

Advocate for liberal causes

Mrs. McEvoy immersed herself in Democratic politics and was a close friend of Illinois Democratic senator and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. When President John F. Kennedy assigned Shriver to start the Peace Corps, Mrs. McEvoy was chosen to run the African program. She later recruited Peace Corps executives to head missions all over the world.

In 1971, Mrs. McEvoy and a group of friends and colleagues she had come to know in the Peace Corps founded a pioneering clinic in Washington called Preterm to provide the first abortion services in the region for low-income women. The clinic, which opened two years before the Supreme Court‘s famed Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion, served as a model for similar clinics under Planned Parenthood auspices in many other cities.

A shocked aunt reportedly told Mrs. McEvoy’s mother, “If you had brought up Nan a little better, this wouldn’t have happened.”

A tall woman who could command a room, Mrs. McEvoy was never satisfied with hobbies and pastimes. She wanted to get things done, and worked on behalf of liberal causes, often in opposition to others of the upper class.

“As a public servant, I was privileged to have Nan’s support,” Feinstein said. “It meant the world to me to have the backing of such a brilliant individual.”

In 1993, after she had moved back to San Francisco, Mrs. McEvoy sold her Georgetown home and thereafter divided her time between an apartment in a Montgomery Street high-rise, across from the Transamerica Pyramid, and her ranch in Petaluma. She said she purchased the 550-acre dairy farm as a place where her grandchildren – the children of her only child, Nion, and his then-wife, Ira – “could feel the country. It was something I had done once.”

The glamour was in wine, but Mrs. McEvoy always avoided glamour. Explaining why she chose to plant olive trees rather than a vineyard, she told an interviewer: “We were too late for grapes – I didn’t want to be the 800th in line.”

Instead she was the first in line for the California olive oil boom. Before planting, she studied the various microclimates and soil. Then she toured Tuscany and found five varieties she liked, bought 1,000 saplings from the trees, and brought them back. This later earned her a Pioneer Award from the California Olive Oil Council.

“She was the second person to start an Italian grove from scratch in California,” said Maggie Klein, owner of Oliveto in Oakland. “It was absolutely pure and raised people’s awareness of what really good olive oil is.”

‘An amazing spirit about her’

Her 80 acres now produce an average of 180 tons of olives a year, and her annual Harvest Party draws 400 people from across the country. Held in November for nearly 20 years, it was canceled last year because the fruit fly had beset the crop. By then Mrs. McEvoy herself was bedridden at her apartment in San Francisco, but she would have insisted the party go on without her, if not for the fruit fly, Nion McEvoy said.

“Nan had an amazing spirit about her,” Feinstein said, “and she had an amazing life.”

She is survived by her son, Nion of San Francisco, and three grandchildren. Services are pending.

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