The people of the Virgin Islands have the power to elect a governor every four years and also send a delegate to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. During his long career, Dr. Melvin Herbert Evans served in both roles.
Evans was born on the island of St. Croix on August 7, 1917, just five months after the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from Denmark. From that year forward the islands were administered by the U.S. Navy. In 1931, those responsibilities were transferred to the Department of the Interior. Civilian governors were then appointed by the President of the United States.
After graduating from high school on St. Thomas, Melvin H. Evans received his bachelor of science degree from Howard University in 1940 and an M.D. from the Howard College of Medicine four years later. A proud fraternity brother, he pledged to the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma, Fraternity Inc. at the HBCU.
Evans then served in a variety of medical and public health positions for the U.S. and the Virgin Islands including second lieutenant in the U.S. Medical Administrative Corps from 1942 to 1945.
From 1959 to 1967 Evans was health commissioner for the Virgin Islands. He returned to private practice for two years before President Richard M. Nixon appointed him Governor of the Islands in July 1969. Then in November 1970 — the year the people of the Virgin Islands were given the power of choice — he became the first governor elected by the people. During his term, he chaired the Southern Governors’ Conference from 1973 to 1974.
In 1976, in Act No. 3911, the 11th Legislature characterized Dr. Evans as a “most distinguished, talented and dedicated Virgin Islander” and to ensure a prominent place for him in Virgin Islands history named the island highway of St. Croix in his honor. Additionally, the 16th Legislature designated Aug. 7 of each year as Melvin H. Evans Day in the territory.
On November 7, 1978, Evans was elected Delegate to the United States House of Representatives from U.S. Virgin Islands. He defeated Democrat Janet Watlington, an aide to outgoing Del. Ron de Lugo.
Evans served as Delegate in the House from 1979 to 1981. During that time, he introduced legislation to alleviate the Virgin Islands’ critical shortage of doctors at local health facilities by permitting foreign physicians to practice there. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1980, losing to former Delegate Ron de Lugo.
Evans was appointed United States Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, and served until his death on November 27, 1984.
In his personal life, Evans was married to Mary Phyllis Evans and the father of four children. He is interred in Christiansted Cemetery on Saint Croix.
A BIT ABOUT DAVE MASON
In the late 1970s, rock musician Dave Mason visited St. Thomas to perform at the legendary Barnacle Bill’s. Taken with tropical living, in 1989 he relocated to the island for a period of time. In 2012, while back in paradise visiting friends at Bolongo Bay, by sheer coincidence his longtime friend, Stevie Wonder was dining at the beach bar. When the local band entertaining diners played “House of the Rising Sun,” Stevie joined them. Shortly thereafter, Mason arrived, calling his fellow Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member back to the stage. The duo jammed to “Stormy Monday” with Stevie on harmonica and both artists on vocals leading a memorable sing-a-long.