The third in a series of WTJX Channel 12 documentaries, entitled "The Governors," will feature the administration of the territory’s first elected governor, Melvin H. Evans, during its premiere Saturday night at 7 p.m.
WTJX Interim Executive Director Tanya-Marie Singh said residents tuning in or attending the screening at Government House on St. Croix Saturday can expect an hour filled with, among other things, rare footage of Evans’ inauguration, highlights of his administration and an in depth look at his life, told through interviews with relatives, friends and members of his cabinet.
"These are people that are passing on, and the knowledge that they have is passing on with them," Singh said Friday during in an interview with the Source. "So it is important, for these men that have served our Virgin Islands and are so important to our tapestry because of what they have sacrificed and done for our community, that we document all that they have done, all that they have been through and how the territory has developed under each of their watches. And, as time passes, we will always have this to go back to, and the knowledge we might have lost, will always be with us.”
The station’s first documentary, produced and aired more than a year ago, focused on the life and administration of Gov. Alexander A. Farrelly. Approached by his widow to produce the feature, WTJX then moved on at the request of Dr. Lillia King, to document the life of her father, the late Cyril E. King, before turning to Evans.
"This is a good overview of the man that Gov. Evans really was," Singh said Friday. "At one point, we were even able to speak to one of his sons, who regretfully passed a way before we were able to air the film, but from that, you get a snapshot into his personal life, from his upbringing to his segway from a medical doctor into politics. He was our only Republican governor, we talk about that, and we even see in the piece his brief stint as delegate to Congress after he lost his second bid for governor.”
To co-produce the documentary, WTJX tapped award-winning local filmmaker Edward La Borde Jr., who spent months combing through interviews and information that the station had put together. Before the process began, La Borde said he knew little about Evans as a governor, but said that by the end, he understood exactly the foundation Evans had laid for V.I. politics.
"When the station called me, I knew I couldn’t wait to do this," La Borde said. "I knew almost nothing about this man, except that he existed. I was born the same year he became governor, so he didn’t really register to me, but I found through this project that he was very unsung. He’s one of the governors that we talk about least when we reflect on things that have happened in our history, but really, he was very accomplished.”
In putting the documentary together, La Borde said he had to learn more about the time period, the big issues, the major events and then put together the story. WTJX had initially started the project in house and had already shot some of the interviews, but La Borde’s task was to fill in the blanks and link everything together.
"It was challenging dealing with some of the controversies in there that I know some that people would like to forget, particularly the Fountain Valley Massacre, which actually became a turning point in his administration," La Borde said, referencing the point in 1972 when five armed, masked men invaded the Fountain Valley Golf Club on St. Croix and killed eight people.
"Getting footage from that time, and getting people to give accurate accounts of what happened was a challenge and actually, in doing this we had to learn about everything that happened — about Evans himself, Fountain Valley, the Brauhaus murders and several other events — just to figure out what story to tell," La Borde said.
The end result, he added, is a piece that really captures the spirit of the Virgin Islands as it was in the 1970s, when the territory was on the brink of change and transition into a world where they "could control their own destiny." While Evans was the last of the V.I.’s presidentially appointed governors, he was also the first to be elected by the local people, the first to wear the now official government seal, and the first to be affected by all the pitfalls that come with governing on his own.
A former V.I. health commissioner, Evans was appointed governor in 1969 and then elected in 1971. In the documentary, Evans’ former lieutenant governor, Athneil "Addie" Ottley, and former attorney general, retired Judge Verne A. Hodge, help to detail the transition from the beginning to the end of the administration. While Evans was known for fixing roads and expanding the public school system, incidents such as Fountain Valley also had him battling with the public on issues such as immigration reform and crime.
"Fountain Valley was a scar, but it wasn’t in his control, and I imagine that he was very challenged as a governor because of these things," La Borde said. "Issues like this could plague just about anybody and Evans was no exception, especially because he was not a politician at heart. It was difficult for him to navigate because he was sure-footed and there were no clear cut answers, so he struggled with finding ways to please the people who were looking for answers.”
Speaking Friday, Singh said after the documentary’s debut, WTJX will continue working on the newest edition to the series, which will feature the administration of Gov. Juan F. Luis. Residents with any photos, information or video footage are urged to contact the station, she said.