2019 Distinguished Alumnus: John Evans '62 GPUS
2019 DISTINGUISHED ALUMNUS: JOHN EVANS ‘62 GPUS
Forty years ago, in 1979, Americans were introduced to a brand-new way to engage with the U.S. Congress and their other elected officials: by welcoming them into their living rooms through C-SPAN, the nationally televised cable network dedicated to covering gavel-to-gavel live political congressional sessions, speeches, hearings, and more. The co-founder of that revolutionary cable channel is John Evans ‘62 GPUS and we are delighted to honor him as University Liggett School’s 2019 Distinguished Alumnus during Alumni Weekend, May 17 and 18.
As a pioneer and internationally recognized figure in the cable television industry, John Evans built and ran the very first cable system in the Washington, D.C. area, and he’s been a leader in telecommunications since his GPUS days. He’s received many awards and accolades for his success and also for his important philanthropic work. Among other things, Evans co-chairs Dr. Robert Gallo’s Advisory Board for the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland. He has also served in various capacities for the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. At his alma mater, the University of Michigan, Evans founded the John D. Evans fund for Media and Technology in 1997, subsequently creating two chairs focusing on social media’s societal impact. There he also serves or has served on the external advisory boards of the School of Information, the College of LS&A, and the President’s Advisory Group. He has also served on the boards of the Eisenhower World Affairs Institute and the Hollings Cancer Center. In 1998, Evans was appointed to the Advisory Committee of Michigan State University’s Quello Center for Law and Regulation.
We recently caught up with Evans to learn more about his experiences at GPUS, his achievements, and his rich philanthropic life.
While at GPUS, you committed yourself to service. Can you share some ways that you volunteered your time and energy, and what you got from the experiences?
My experience at GPUS was that service was an integral part to living one’s life. I’m remembering that upon graduation, during the ceremonies I received the school’s service award. Whatever extracurricular services that the school needed, I got myself involved with, like for example the fundraising carnival.
What are some lifelong skills you gained while at GPUS?
First would be to be inquisitive so that you can begin to get to whatever is the truth. Also, be true to yourself. I was a maverick in our family. My parents allowed me to be that maverick and take it where it would, so long as it was safe.
Be authentic. I learned early on while in high school to be who you are. That’s hard, particularly as a teenager, but this served me well later in life. I always say: “What you see is what you get, because I’m not smart enough to be clever.” When you are trying to be clever you will be found out. To build on that: later in life as I developed these key
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principles, I began to understand that the coin of the realm is trust. Trust is built on four things: integrity, authenticity, empathy, and logic. All of them must be intertwined and truly authentic. That’s true whether you’re a scientist, a businessperson, or a politician. The beginnings of my understanding of that came from my sophomore, junior and senior year and then began to blossom at U of M, where as the director of the campus news radio station WCBN, I covered John F. Kennedy’s tragic assassination in 1963.
You’ve received a lot of recognition in your life for your career – your trophy case must be full! What does receiving the Distinguished Alumni award mean to you?
It’s a great honor to be acknowledged and remembered by a school that gave me my foundation, that gave me the values, principles, and knowledge that I was able to build on at U of M, in the U.S. Navy, and during my business career. There are many times I would hearken back to the words of my teachers, and remember whether it was history, literature, philosophy, or spiritual guidance, that their teaching helped me to stay focused.
What prompted your philanthropic/social justice work?
It really started in the mid-80s when I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Robert Gallo, the co-discoverer of the HIV virus. At that time, HIV was seriously affecting the gay population and sadly, many of my acquaintances died from the virus during those years. And while it was hitting close to home for me personally, the more time spent with Bob, the more I realized what a global crisis AIDS had become.
During that time, I was running Evans Telecommunications, which was all-consuming. But Bob and I stayed in touch and, in 1995, he gave me a call and said ‘John, I’m leaving the National Institute of Health to form the Institute of Human Virology and want you on my advisory board.’ I told Bob while I was honored, I barely passed biology in high school, and I avoided it at all costs at U of M, so I wasn’t sure exactly I what I could do to assist him. But he said he needed me for other reasons and I naturally jumped in with both feet to help.
As a result, we formed the Waterford Project, where we employed broadband technology to connect Gallo’s lab with researchers from Harvard, Emory, Michigan and UCSF to accelerate new HIV vaccine candidates. What was exciting is that we were able to use telecommunications to help break down walls between competing labs so that their research results could be shared and used in real-time. And, as I speak right now (March 2019), Dr. Gallo has an HIV vaccine in human trial. We will find out in next couple of years how well it is doing.
In an effort to expand my ability to help with this cause and other matters that are important to me, I created the John D. Evans Foundation in 1993, which focuses not only on HIV/AIDS research, but also on social justice issues, LGBTQ rights, the environment, education, technological innovation, and the arts. My partner Steve Wozencraft and I have worked hard to be LGBTQ civil rights advocates and have been actively involved with a wide range of projects including the U.S. State Department’s 15-country Global Equality Fund and the University of Michigan’s Spectrum Center initiatives. I am proud that Steve and I are the very first openly gay couple to have been officially designated by then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as Patrons of Diplomacy, and our names are engraved on the U.S. Department of State building in Washington, D.C.
I’m the first openly gay board member for the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association. I’m so proud of our industry’s commitment to diversity. This is the 38th year I have served on the NCTA board, and because of that, coupled with my work with C-SPAN and my creation of the first cable system in Washington, D.C., I was inducted into the Cable Hall of Fame in 2016. For me this is a time of stewardship. For, we will all be remembered by what good stewards we have been of that which has been entrusted to us.
To learn more about John Evans and his career, visit www.uls.org/alumni.