Salute to Rowlie Evans, a friendly rival retiring ON POLITICS

JACK GERMOND AND JULES WITCOVER

April 30, 1993|By JACK GERMOND AND JULES WITCOVER

WASHINGTON -- First the trolley cars left the Washington scene. Then old Griffith Stadium was torn down. Then the Washington Senators baseball team left town. And now Rowland Evans Jr. is retiring. An era is over.

Evans, the Mr. Nice Guy and front end (as opposed to the back end) of the dreaded Evans and Novak syndicated newspaper column, is stepping down at the youthful age of 72, leaving the column in the hands of his ultraconservative partner, Robert Novak, 62, a.k.a. the Prince of Darkness. All of liberal Washington quakes at the thought, although Rowlie himself is reputed to have political blood lines that go back to William McKinley.

As friendly competitors of the dynamic duo for more than half the 30 years they have written their column together, we are sorry to hear about the breakup of two of the best-suited partners around since Felix Unger moved in with Oscar Madison.

That they agreed over the years on almost everything political, from the divine wisdom of Barry Goldwater and the folly of George McGovern to the infallibility of Jack Kemp, is without dispute. Yet socially they have been Washington's own Odd Couple -- Rowlie given to gracing the salons of Georgetown, where he still lives, and wielding a mean squash racket, Bob hanging around the saloons of everyplace else and confining his athletic activity to climbing to his seat at RFK Stadium on Sundays for home games of the Redskins.

In all the 30 years in which they have terrorized politicians of both parties and milked them for appearances at their high-priced annual seminars, Rowlie and Bob have seldom been seen

together. Indeed, there is a theory that on rare occasions when Novak has needed an Evans, as for a roast in Novak's honor some years ago, he rents an Evans.

Evans insists, however, that he and Novak are very close. Several years ago at another roast, a politician asked Evans if it was true that he had never entertained Novak at his home. Evans rose, his aristocratic chest thrust out indignantly, and announced that on Sept. 14, 1967, he once had Novak over for a drink.

While Novak is best known for his irreverent rantings on television, Evans is famed as a discriminating and proper host who knows how to develop sources with sugar and honey. At the outset of the Jimmy Carter administration, he is said to have phoned Greg Schneiders, then Carter's campaign body man and now a political consultant. The conversation supposedly went like this:

Evans: "Hi. This is Rowlie Evans. Can you come to dinner Saturday night? Henry [Kissinger] and a few others will be here."

Schneiders: "Why, er, sure, I'd like to."

Evans: "Do you have a wife?"

Schneiders: "Yes."

Evans: "Is she presentable?"

Schneiders is said to believe that Evans was serious, but there is at least an outside chance that Rowlie, known for the subtlety of his wit, was kidding. Asked about the exchange later, he was quoted as saying: "Well, it certainly sounds like me." In any event, Schneiders and his extremely presentable wife, Marie, went and are alleged to have had a grand time.

As the years went by and opinions hardened about the Evans and Novak column, unkindly critics began to refer to them as Errors and No Facts -- a cruel moniker that we have declined to use to this day. But no one could challenge their productivity, as they became a multimedia news and analysis machine of prodigious output.

As a team, they have been perfectly cast to play the old Good Cop-Bad Cop routine, switching roles frequently but the ever-smiling Evans always managing to be seen publicly as the good guy -- not all that hard a trick considering the often-scowling countenance of his partner. With Evans removing himself to the sidelines, Novak will now have to stand alone as the guilty party to all those politicians believing they have been wronged in the E&N column.

Meanwhile, something precious will be lost in Washington journalism. In an era of the pontificating pundit whose prime source is himself, Rowlie Evans for all his style and polish has been an old-fashioned foot soldier in the trenches of journalism, digging for news wherever he could find it -- and finding plenty.

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