e have all heard the cliches which describe the influence mothers and wives exercise over the men in their lives who hold public office or positions of prominense. Phrases such as “the hand that rocks the cradle,” “the power behind the throne,” and the ambiguous “pillow talk,” come to mind.
Most successful male political practitioners have around them either a strong mother, or a strong wife, or both.
In Idaho, some of her more successful governors either had or still have spouses that were critical elements in helping win elections and govern. Some First Ladies were or are key advisors to their husbands. Others saw or see their role as that of being a protective mother hen whose purpose is to fight for “get away time” for their spouse, for relaxation and recharging the batteries. Many First Ladies have exercised their influence by controlling the schedule.
None of these primary roles are mutually exclusive. Several First Ladies in Idaho functioned in several capacities for their spouse.
One of the best First Ladies in Idaho history, Lola Evans, was laid to rest in the Malad cemetary last week, next to her beloved husband, John V., who served as governor for ten straight years, from 1977 to 1987.
Lola Evans ranks in the top tier along with Carol Andrus and Grace Jordan. All three of these First Ladies made significant contributions to the success and well-being of their husbands, as did most of Idaho’s First Ladies. These three, though, were adept politicians in their own right. All three governors recognized their spouse had unerringly good instincts.
None were or are demure wall flowers hesitant to tell the governor of a “miscalculation.” All, though, kept their counsel in the home for all three share another quality---fierce loyalty to the spouse and zealous protection of the spouse and the family.
Early in my journalism career when I was the political reporter for the Idaho State Journal I made a passing reference to one of then State Senator Cecil Andrus’ daughters giving him an “in” with students at ISU because the daughter was dating the student body president.
Mrs. Andrus was not pleased and made certain I should have known references to candidate or officeholders spouse or children was “off limits” unless they were directly injected into a campaign. She wa absolutely correct. There was a reason why she learned her husband had hired me to be his press secretary only by reading the Idaho Statesman.
What made Lola Evans stand out was her fine sense of humor and her sense of adventure. One can learn much about another if they have to travel with them. Some call it “the four-day raft trip” test. Was the person a good traveling companion? Did one encounter an unexpected challenge that required poise and presence?
Mrs. Evans passed that test with flying colors. In 1975 I accompanied then Lt. Governor John Evans and Mrs. Evans on a week-long trade mission to Japan. Two nights before we left to return home I switched all of us from our five-star western hotel to a three-star genuine ryoken, a Japanese Inn.
From a soft queen-size bed to sleeping on the tatami mats; from western food to Japanese fare and no utinsels, just chop-sticks; from waitresses who spoke English to servers who spoke only Japanese---it was a stunning change.
Most First Ladies could not or would not have agreed to such a total change. Lola Evans took it in stride, thoroughly enjoyed herself and thanked me afterwards for taking the group out of a transplanted, homogenized faux wertern experience and instead providing them with a true cross-cultural experience.
When one recognizes that the spouse of an officeholder often has to carry almost all the child rearing responsibilities, keep the home presentable, be ready to prepare fine meals when the hubby suddenly brings home an unannounced guest, often do all the shopping and pay all the bills, and still is expected to stand by the guy at countless receptions and accompany him on the “rubber chicken” circuit, all while maintaining the right appearance, only then can one begin to appreciate what valuable asssets First Ladies like Lola Evans can be and were for their husbands.
Multi-tasking does not begin to describe the skill.
John Evans only lost one political race in his life (the last one). A full partner in his success was Lola Daniel Evans - the sine qua non of his career. May God’s angels convey her swiftly to the bosum of the Lord and a joyful reunion with her governor amidst the communion of Saints.