Former Idaho Gov. John Victor Evans dies at age 89

Idaho Gov. John Evans, center, examines the damage after an earthquake where two school children died early on Friday, Oct. 28, 1983, in Challis. The quake was measured 6.9 on the Richter scale. Evans, who served as goivernor from 1977 to 1987, died Tuesday morning at his Boise home. He was 89. (AP Photo / Barry Sweet)

BOISE (AP) — Former Gov. John Victor Evans Sr., who fought with the infantry in the Pacific in World War II and came home to become one of Idaho’s last Mormon Democrats to achieve statewide political success, has died. He was 89.

His political career started young — at age 27 in 1952 — when he became a state senator. By 1977, he had the state’s top job, a post he gave up to run for the U.S. Senate, losing a close race in 1986.

One of Evans’ sons then offered him a job at a D.L. Evans Bank, a bank started by Evans’ grandfather. His title, his son said, would be vice president of consumer development.

“He said, ‘I’ve been mayor, I’ve been lieutenant governor and I’ve been governor,’” recalled John Evans Jr. “One thing I haven’t been is president.”

He held that title until his death Tuesday. During his tenure helped the bank grow tenfold.

Evans Sr. was born in 1925 in Malad City. He fought in World War II and went to Stanford University on the G.I. Bill. After graduating, he returned to Idaho to help run the family businesses, and later found his way into politics.

He was good at it. Evans Jr. recalled occasions where his father shook hands with every person in a room.

“He told me that when you start shaking hands, you shake everybody’s hand or they’ll think you’re too good for them,” Evans Jr. said.

Evans Sr. served as Malad City’s mayor before returning to the Idaho Senate for a second stint in 1968; he was minority leader for several years. He then was elected Idaho lieutenant governor.

In 1977, Evans Sr. was elevated to the chief executive job when then-Gov. Cecil D. Andrus was named interior secretary under President Jimmy Carter.

A year later, Evans Sr. became the first member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be elected Idaho governor, a post he won in 1978 and again in 1982.

Andrus described Evans Sr. as a good friend, dedicated public official and a “genuinely fine man.”

“He’ll be remembered as a strong and capable governor who fought hard to maintain a strong economy and first-class educational opportunities for Idahoans,” Andrus said in a statement.

Evans’ tenure as governor came amid Idaho’s transition from a largely natural resource-dominated economy to one that included a mix of other products, including semiconductors.

“Having had the good fortune to serve under Governor Evans, I got to know him as a sincere professional who understood the cost of success and took seriously his responsibilities as Idaho’s chief executive,” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, a former lieutenant governor, said in a statement. “He always had the best of intentions and was earnest in his love of Idaho.”

Evans challenged Sen. Steve Symms, R-Idaho, and the two spent a combined $6 million on the race. Evans Jr. said his father had the lead until President Ronald Reagan campaigned in Idaho for Symms.

Evans Sr. is survived by his wife, Lola; sons David, John Jr. and Thomas; and daughters Martha Gilgen and Susan Scarlett; 15 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.