Aug. 6, 2003 – Thursday will mark the 86th anniversary of the birth of Melvin Evans, the territory's first elected governor, and Gov. Charles W. Turnbull has proclaimed it "Melvin H. Evans Day in the Virgin Islands."
A Government House release noted that in 1968 the people of the Virgin Islands achieved the right to elect their own governor, and that in 1970 Evans became both the last appointed and the first elected governor of the territory.
Enduring tributes in his homeland include the naming of the main classroom building on the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus and the main south shore highway on St. Croix in his honor.
Evans was born in Christiansted to Charles Herbert Evans and Maude Rogiers Evans on Aug. 7, 1917 — the same year the U.S. Virgin Islands was "born" through transfer from Denmark. He attended school through the10th grade on St. Croix, then moved to St. Thomas, where he graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School as valedictorian of the Class of 1935. He received a bachelor's degree and then, in 1944, his medical degree, both from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Following his medical internship in New York City, he returned home and was named physician-in-charge at the Frederiksted Hospital. He left to work with the U.S. Public Health Service, then returned to the Virgin Islands to become chief municipal physician for St. Croix as well as assistant Health commissioner. He was named Health commissioner in 1959 and held the position until 1967.
He was appointed governor by President Richard Nixon in 1969. Congress had passed the Elective Governor Act in 1968 giving Virgin Islands the right to elect their own governor in 1970. The Republican Evans, Independent Citizens Movement candidate Cyril E. King and Democratic standard bearer Alexander A. Farrelly ran for the office that year. Because none received a majority vote, a runoff was held between Evans and King, with Evans the victor.
Defeated by King in his re-election bid in 1974, Evans returned to the practice of medicine. But three years later he was elected delegate to Congress, serving for one term. After that, he was named U.S. ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, a position he held until his death in 1984.
Evans was married to the former Mary Phyllis Anderson, and they had four sons: Melvin Herbert Jr., Robert Rogiers, William Charles and Cornelius Duncan.
Although he is remembered most for his public service and political activity, he was "foremost a physician, skilled in surgery and later in cardiology, providing health care to a large number of Virgin Islanders from his private practice and public health services," according to a biographical article in the 3rd edition of "Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders."
He was active in civic affairs as well, as a member of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, Republican Party and UVI board of trustees.
Turnbull issued his proclamation "to recognize the outstanding public service of this great Virgin Islander." And in so doing, he directed the commissioner of Education to "conduct appropriate ceremonies in the public school system" in honor of Evans and "to include dissemination of biographical information."
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