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In Remembrance of a Progressive Champion

Friends of Lane Evans

Lane Evans had an easy smile, but downstate Illinois’ progressive champion for working people and veterans was a bit bashful and didn’t often laugh out loud.

So as we grieve his death, it’s some comfort to recall when I sparked a gut-busting guffaw from the Quad Cities Democrat.

It was after an event in Canton, Ill., where Evans appeared with the great liberal governor of Texas, Ann Richards. A supporter complimented Lane’s new haircut and a face she said was becoming “Lincoln-esque.” He grinned. Then I said hello and added that a kid on the Little League team I coached thought his original haircut made him look like Jim Carrey in “Dumb and Dumber.”

He laughed out loud, shook his head and said, “A lot of us feel dumb and dumber sometimes.”

I made him laugh then. Now, his passing makes us cry.

The popular lawmaker, 63, died Nov. 5 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

A Marine, graduate of Augustana College and Georgetown University’s law school, and former Quad Cities legal aid lawyer, Lane served Illinois’17th Congressional District from 1983-2007.

Diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1995, Lane served more than a decade more, fighting for unions, veterans and everyday people with solid constituent services and a strong ethic that emboldened him to stand up for rights – and for what was right – when more feeble or fearful Democrats fretted about popularity, polls or politics.

A co-founder of Congress’s Progressive Caucus, Lane was an early supporter of Barack Obama, first in 2004 for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, then for the White House in 2008.

Lane was my Congressman for about a year when I moved into western Peoria County, then redistricting changed his area, but we crossed paths frequently, mostly with on labor issues but sometimes just because we were nearby. Whether at a picnic in Macomb or a rally in Galesburg, at meetings in offices in Moline or Washington, on picket lines or parades, Lane was a welcoming man, sleeves rolled up, tie loosened, eyes front. For a time, he dated a Chicago woman I knew from mutual progressive pals. He helped another friend who also has Parkinson’s, with some fund raising. He helped me write a Mother’s Day feature, reflecting on his mom Joyce and their support of JFK.

Unlike a lot of political candidates, Lane didn’t seem comfortable glad-handing strangers, but he was never standoffish either. And like many good politicians, he remembered names. He asked about my son more than once even though they’d only met a few times.

Bill Knight

Lane was bright, sharp and witty. Once I was visiting with one of his Capitol Hill aides about mega-hog farms, and Lane interrupted his schedule, came in the conference room and joined the discussion, helping us come up with a gimmick to use at an upcoming hearing in Springfield: “SWINE,” he said, looking up from doodling on a yellow legal pad, his eyes twinkling.

S is for Smell, W is for the Water that’s threatened, I is for the Indemnification against loss neighbors might suffer. N is for the Nutrient overload from too much manure spread on fields. E is for Enforcement of any regulation that might be passed.

He passed the last few years at Hope Creek Care Center in East Moline, staying as engaged as possible and indulging his love for British Invasion rock ’n’ roll, especially the Beatles but also the Kinks, he told me.

The heartbreaking sorrow that’s felt is tempered by the inspiration Lane engendered.

Before his burial at the National Cemetery at Rock Island Arsenal, his funeral Mass Nov. 10 at Moline’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church was celebrated by Father Mark DeSutter, a former Macomb and Morton priest. On 17th Avenue at 13th Street, with clocks on its bell tower and an entrance of three big doors, the stately church building was built of stones as gray as the sky that morning. But the sun broke through the clouds and shone through the stained-glass windows facing south.

People smiled through tears, and you could almost hear the laughter of hope.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Tri States Public Radio or Western Illinois University.

Contact Bill at; his twice-weekly columns are archived at