Former Illinois Rep. Lane Evans, a Vietnam War-era Marine who fought for veterans’ rights during his 24 years in the U.S. House, has died after a long fight with Parkinson’s disease.
The Democrat died Wednesday at a nursing home in East Moline, Illinois, said his legal guardian and former congressional staffer Michael Malmstrom. He was 63.
Evans was first elected from his western Illinois district in 1982, when he was a 31-year-old attorney, and went on to serve 12 terms.
He worked for more than a decade after his Parkinson’s diagnosis, but announced in 2006 that he wouldn’t seek re-election because of his deteriorating health. He left office in January 2007.
“Illinois lost one of its kindest, most caring public servants with the passing of my friend and colleague Lane Evans,” Sen. Dick Durbin said in a statement. “When I last visited him, I told him our friend Barack Obama still remembered his quiet courage as a Congressman. I recall our many common causes for veterans and our downstate districts and, of course, our many hard fought campaigns.
“Lane told me years later that it was during a joint appearance in 1996 at a Labor Day parade in Galesburg that he first felt the numbing in his hand which led to his Parkinson’s diagnosis: a disease that trapped his body but never restrained his great spirit. Thank heavens for Lane Evans.”
Evans joined the Marines at age 17, and had orders for Vietnam. But he did his overseas service in Okinawa, Japan, because his older brother was already deployed in the war.
As a congressman, he fought for the rights of veterans and was the senior Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. He pushed legislation to help those exposed to Agent Orange and to give former service members rights to judicial review.
“He was an advocate of veterans across this country no matter what branch of service,” said Malmstrom, a fellow Marine.
He is survived by his three brothers.