Richard Frederic Evans; Historian of the D.C. Area

Richard Evans, 71, was
Richard Evans, 71, was "like the living database," a nephew said. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
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By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 11, 2008

Richard Frederic Evans, 71, a ubiquitous volunteer who used his encyclopedic knowledge of Washington history to assist researchers, museums and thousands of tourists, died June 27 of congestive heart failure at his home in the District.

Mr. Evans, a professional engineer, spent more than three decades researching, preserving and sharing the rich past found within the halls and on the walls of Washington museums and historical societies.

"He was kind of like the living database," said a nephew, Bob Evans, who said his uncle continued volunteering until days before his death.

For at least 33 years at the Smithsonian Institution, Mr. Evans brought enthusiasm and knowledge to his work as docent at the Smithsonian Castle and a volunteer on the information and telephone desks, said Katherine Neill Ridgley, director of the Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center.

Mr. Evans also helped train classes of Castle docents and worked with the curatorial staff on exhibits.

"We really relied on his judgment . . . his knowledge," Ridgley said. "He was a great teacher, very good at imparting information to people."

At the Historical Society of Washington since the early 1980s, Mr. Evans used his technical expertise in the Kiplinger Research Library to scan photographs for researchers needing vintage images of D.C. neighborhoods, people or buildings. He also maintained recent photographic collections.

In the 1990s, he helped prepare the Historical Society's research library for transition to its current location at the Carnegie Building. More recently, as photograph curator, he worked to digitize the library's online catalogue and helped build the Web site.

He spent four days a week at the Society, almost full time, said director Yvonne Carignan."He just knew so much, and it just made him so happy to share that knowledge," Carignan said.

Mr. Evans's volunteer efforts, which also included the Library of Congress, the National Building Museum and the Christian Heurich House Museum, overlapped for years with his career as an electrical engineer.

Born in Tremont, Pa., he graduated with an electrical engineering degree from Pennsylvania State University in 1958. He worked with Hughes Aircraft, Martin Marietta and TRW and worked on projects for the Navy and Energy departments. He retired from TRW in 2000.

For 26 years, his interest in architecture and insight into mechanical objects combined to give visitors informed glimpses into the Christian Heurich House Museum, the late 19th-century "Brewmaster's Castle" in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. He researched the technological innovations built into the 1890s house, including indoor plumbing and pneumatic and electric communications systems, and aided in the mansion's conservation.

Mr. Evans was a member since the 1980s of the Victorian Society in America and served on the board of directors of the Washington chapter.

A man known for being focused in his work, he catalogued and schematized the artwork portrayed on the walls and ceiling of the Library of Congress's Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building and the stained glass windows in the Main Reading Room. The schematics have been used in creating new interactive exhibitions and in training docents at the Library, where Mr. Evans had been a docent for the past 10 years.

Since 1992, Mr. Evans had also volunteered at the National Building Museum. He assisted with the research and production of the 2003 exhibition "Up, Down, Across: Elevators, Escalators, and Moving Sidewalks."

Survivors include a brother.

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