Relay for Life: Ean Evans’ family shares memories, aids the long fight

April 17, 2010 8:20:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


For Eva Evans of Columbus, the past year has too often been a deep and dark place. Even when, to all outward appearances, she was holding up well. On May 6, 2009, she lost Ean, her husband of 24 years. 


Even enveloped by the love and attention of family and friends, her path is one, in many ways, she''s had to walk alone. The same path left to unseen thousands plunged into emotional isolation after losing someone they love dearly to cancer. 


"I never imagined how hard and how much of a blow it was to me," Eva shared haltingly. "He was my soulmate. This year would have been 25 years. ... When you''re ''one'' like that, and you''re so close to someone beating the odds ... ," she trailed off softly. 


As the bassist in Lynyrd Skynyrd, Ean had armies of well-wishers across the country, even the world. In Columbus, where the family lived, friends put on the "Mississippi Kid" Festival last April 19, taking the name from one of the producer/songwriter''s favorite T-shirts he wore on tour. Members of Skynyrd and a host of other musicians traveled to the Columbus Fairgrounds to share the stage with Ean one more time. 


Monday, the one-year anniversary of the benefit, has been declared "Ean ''Mississippi Kid'' Evans Day" by proclamation of Columbus Mayor Robert Smith and the city council.  




Facing loss 


Ean''s celebrity meant his battle with cancer was not a wholly private one. Eva''s role required a public face, before and after her husband''s passing. 


"It almost felt like I had this wound I just put a band-aid over, and it just kept festering," she revealed. "I was so withdrawn, even though I got out and was trying to do more to stay busy. ... There''s no easy way around the diagnosis, there''s no easy way around the grieving. You just have to go through it." 


The devastation was compounded because Eva had also lost her father to cancer in July 2008. 


Now, after months of prayer, support and grief counseling, she is beginning to feel stirrings of hope. She''s assisting Carlos and Roberto Rosales of CS Digital Productions in the making of a video biography of Ean''s life and finding quiet joy with family. 


"I''m moving from despair to cherishing the moment, and I want to share that with people," she said. 


It''s one of the reasons Eva and her family feel strongly about supporting Relay for Life April 23 at Saunders Field in Columbus. The annual 12-hour celebration of survivors and caregivers -- and remembrance for those we''ve lost -- is an American Cancer Society fundraiser. But it also unites the community, recognizing that almost everyone has been or will be affected by the disease. 


Sixty-two teams have already signed up to participate, more than in any other year, noted Mott Ellis, Relay for Life Team Development Coordinator. They all find creative ways to raise monies for the fight against cancer. 




Musical memorabilia 


One of those teams is from Salon 417, the hair styling salon owned by Eva''s sister, Kittie Fountain -- and where Eva is easing back into work. The salon team''s collaborative plan is a silent auction of some of Ean''s memorabilia and equipment. 


"It''s such an honor to be able to do this. Ean really wanted to give back to the community, and he wanted us to keep that going on," Eva said. "One hundred percent of the proceeds will go to Relay for Life." 


Sydney Altizer, one of the Evans'' daughters, said, "We''ll have keepsake laminated backstage passes from some of dad''s concert tours, a DeArmond Ashbory bass guitar, a roll out keyboard portable piano, a Samson R21 microphone with cable and tripod boom mic stand, headphones, Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirts and CDs and more." 


Other items will include "Mississippi Kid" T-shirts and guitar picks made in memory of Ean, as well as the late Leon Wilkerson, Ean''s friend and predecessor in the iconic band. 


While the auction will end at Relay for Life April 23, those interested can view items and begin bidding Monday at the salon located at 2317 Com-merce Dr. 


"I hope there are people out there who want to give to this cause and hope they remember, it''s more than just Ean''s thing, it''s about what they can give back to Relay for Life," stressed Eva.  




The wow factor 


"If you''ve never been to Relay for Life before, you''re going to be wowed," said Ellis. "There''s a survivors'' celebration, a luminaria celebration and a caregivers'' celebration, because everybody has been touched by cancer in some form or fashion." 


Following a survivors'' gathering at 5 p.m. (registration begins at 3:30 p.m.) and opening ceremonies at 6 p.m., the evening will be filled with food, games, children''s activities and live music from groups including Swing Shift, Keith and Margie and the Mississippi University for Women Maskers Washboard Band.  


A luminaria service starts at 9 p.m. Purchase luminarias for $10 at the event, or in advance at Baptist Memorial Hospital Cancer Center, in memory or in honor of someone. The glowing tributes will line the walking track at Saunders Field as names are read from the stage. 


New innovations this year include extending children''s activities until 1 a.m. and adding a Survivors'' Choice Award for the campsite best fitting the theme "Relay Remodel Extreme Makeover." 


Salon 417''s site, for example, will use a Grammy red carpet theme, said Eva, who will be joined in the Relay walk by daughters Sydney, formerly of Columbus, now of Albuquerque, N.M., and Andrea Evans of Columbus. "Even the grandbaby will come along," she added. 


Closing ceremonies are at 6 a.m. Saturday, April 24, marked by a final lap around the track. Teams can continue to sign up, even on April 23. 


"I get so excited when I talk about Relay, I really do!" Ellis enthused. "Our goal is to raise $140,000, more than we''ve ever done. I''m optimistic, with this many teams involved, even with the economy the way it''s been, I believe it can be done." 




Finding peace 


For Eva and the Evans family, their part in Relay for Life is one way of continuing Ean''s desire to help his community -- and to say thank you for support. 


"My heart''s been so touched," Eva expressed. "To try to say thank you to people is more overwhelming than I can try to say with words ... " 


For those facing the battle, she offers, "I have more of a hope for others to recover, and I don''t give up on that. I''ve seen so many people get better. ... You just don''t give up -- with the doctors, with prayer, with love and family, that''s how you get through this. 


" ... I''m now cherishing the moments instead of being so devastated; I''m reaching the point where I''m feeling uplifted. I feel like Ean''s looking over my shoulder saying ... ''Go, Eva, go.''"

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.