LC in History: Our Own Voltaire

Dr. Clifton W. Potter Jr., LC History Professor~

It has been often said that each one of us had a double somewhere in the world.  As a historian, I tend to equate the people I know with historical personalities.  One member of our faculty resembled the great Greek philosopher, Socrates. Another could have been the twin of the Italian patriot, Giuseppe Garibaldi. A retired member of the administration was a “dead ringer” for Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, the father of Italian unification.  Don Evans, who taught art at Lynchburg College from 1948 until his retirement in 1983, not only looked like the greatest of the French philosophes, François Marie Arouet de Voltaire, he acted like him.

I first met Mr. Evans when I was a freshman, but I did not get to know Mr. Evans until another professor injured himself.  In order to satisfy my philosophy requirement, I had decided to take a course in aesthetics. The class had just begun when the professor fell off his roof while attaching a television antenna to his chimney, which resulted in his leg breaking in several places.  Mr. Evans took over the class and taught it until the end of the semester. There were some students in the class who were looking for an easy A; they did not get it. The course was very demanding. We were required to attend a number functions on and off campus, there were presentations in class, and the tests were challenging.  However, the effort was worth it because some of us learned a great deal. As Don collected the finals, he turned to the class and smiled, “As Groucho Marx once said, ‘don’t think it hasn’t been fun, because it hasn’t, but what do you expect when you cast pearls.” Then he walked out of the class. That did it, I decided to take his six-hour course in art history.  It proved to be one of the most valuable subjects I ever studied. In graduate school, I mined my art history notes again and again for ideas for term paper topics.

He was the master of the quick retort and the witty remark, but like Voltaire, he was the defender of the vulnerable.  He loathed pretense and hypocrisy and delighted in deflating the “wind-bags” whom he encountered on campus. He was always in first class during faculty meetings.  He loved all the arts, and faithfully supported the college’s fine arts series, as well as the Lynchburg College Theatre. He was a talented artist who had a flair for portraiture.  His likeness of Dr. Richard Clarke Sommerville is one of the finest paintings in the college’s collection. Unfortunately, he had to stop painting because of severe arthritis in his hands, but he continued to share his expertise with generations of art students.  He always praised those with talent, and he was kind to those who had none—as long as they were willing to work.

With an annual stipend provided by LC, Don Evans began purchasing paintings for the art collection that is now housed in the Daura Gallery.  There is a certain irony in all this since in 1948 Don replaced Pierre Daura on our faculty. Voltaire would have appreciated that—I am sure Don did.