Former city councilman, disability advocate and Paralympian passes away

Updated: Dec. 4, 2017 at 11:56 PM CST
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Dr. Grover Evans began his political career in Jonesboro. (Source: Dr. Grover Evans)
Dr. Grover Evans began his political career in Jonesboro. (Source: Dr. Grover Evans)
Dr. Grover Evans with then President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. (Source: Dr....
Dr. Grover Evans with then President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton. (Source: Dr. Grover Evans)
Dr. Grover Evans coached swimmers at Parkview Magnet School in Little Rock before his death....
Dr. Grover Evans coached swimmers at Parkview Magnet School in Little Rock before his death. (Source: THV11)
Dr. Grover Evans inducted in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1996. (Source: Dr. Grover Evans)
Dr. Grover Evans inducted in the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 1996. (Source: Dr. Grover Evans)

The first African American to be elected to the Jonesboro City Council has died.

Dr. Grover Evans passed away on Sunday, December 3, 2017, at Baptist Health Rehabilitation Institute in Little Rock. Dr. Evans served six terms on the Jonesboro City Council and was vice-mayor from December 1984 to July 1996.

"I served with Grover Evans on the City Council, and he was on my Mercantile Bank advisory board," Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said. "What always struck me was that he was a great listener. He would listen to all sides of a debate -- then he could lay things out for you in a strategic way."

Mayor Perrin reminisced about the time both he and Dr. Evans spent on the City Council.

"He always had the attitude, 'Yes I can.'" Perrin said. "He never let anything get in the way, and never allowed his disability to hold him back from what he wanted to accomplish. I always found that inspiring."

Before Dr. Evans was a part of the Jonesboro City Council, he covered the political movers and shakers as a reporter for The Jonesboro Sun.

One fateful night, the Jonesboro High School and Arkansas State University graduate known as "Groovy Grover," drove to Newport to check on a friend that had lost his mother. He knew his mother would worry about him driving at night that distance so he didn't tell her, according to his sister, Cora Evans Hester. But then she got the call that would change everything on May 1, 1977.

There had been an accident, her brother was hurt and in the hospital in Newport.

"Grover had not a cut on him, no broken bones nothing," Hester said. " His car had gone off the road, rolled and he was not wearing a seat belt. It threw him from the front to the back seat and spare tire came up and hit him. That's what caused him to be paralyzed."

The reality of his injury was hard to accept. He rejected using several wheelchairs.

"He had been in the band at Jonesboro High School and Arkansas State," Cora said. "He could play anything."

But, the injury that put him in a wheelchair was almost more than he could take. He was taken to a Memphis hospital to begin rehabilitation.

"We went through a lot with that boy," Hester said. "We tried to explain, 'Grover, you're still alive!'"

But it would still take time before Evans came to accept his "new" life.

Following his car accident, Dr. Evans was told that he would likely live only three to five more years. It was then, he decided to make the most of it.

Two months after his accident, he began to regain some sensation in his right arm and his left soon followed. He was soon moved to a hospital in Jonesboro for occupational and physical therapy.

Dr. Evans discovered working in a swimming pool would allow him to gain more mobility. It was during this time, he was exposed to several sports opportunities through the National Wheelchair Sports Association. He took up table tennis and participated in track-and-field wheelchair competitions. In 1989, he took part in his first swim competition.

At Arkansas State, he teamed up with a university swimming instructor who worked on his swimming technique and developed a training program for him. It was then that Dr. Evans truly began to hit his stride. He set several national and world swimming records in the 50-meter backstroke, 50-meter freestyle, 50-meter breaststroke, 100-meter backstroke and 100-meter freestyle. In Barcelona, Spain, Dr. Evans became the first African American to swim on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

He went on to compete in several more Paralympics. First, he was an alternate for the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia, and a team member for the 2004 games in Athens, Greece, and the 2008 games in Beijing, China. Dr. Evans is credited with setting five world records: one Paralympics record in Barcelona, 61 American records and 8 Pan-American records. In 1997, Dr. Evan was inducted into the Arkansas Swimming Hall of Fame. Until very recently, Dr. Evans continued to work as a swim coach in Little Rock.

In 1989, Dr. Evans graduated from Arkansas State University's Leadership Program. He also received a doctorate in nutrition counseling from LaSalle University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, according to Arkansas History & Culture.

After serving on Jonesboro's City Council, Dr. Evans received an appointment from then Governor Mike Huckabee. Governor Huckabee named Dr. Evans as the director of Disability Determination for the Social Security Administration for the State of Arkansas.

He was a council member for the Arkansas Injury Prevention Coalition under the Arkansas Department of Health.

"Grover learned a lot from his life experiences," Hester said. "He was the one that got sidewalks fixed where people in wheelchairs could get up on them in their wheelchairs."

He helped with the passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act and was involved in many legislative meetings in Washington, D.C. Dr. Evans helped Congress pass the Brady Bill, named after former White House press secretary James Brady who was shot and became permanently disabled in 1981 during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Evans also volunteered his time to the Spinal Cord Commission, Easter Seals and the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission.

Funeral services for Dr. Grover Evans Funeral service will be Thursday, December 7, 2017, at 9:30 a.m. in Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Little Rock with Father Joshua Stengel officiating. Burial will follow at 2:00 p.m. in Oaklawn Cemetery in Jonesboro. The first visitation with a Rosary will be Wednesday, December 6, 2017, from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church. The second visitation will be Thursday, December 7, 2017, from 3:00-4:00 p.m. at Emerson Funeral Home.

Grover was preceded in death by his parents, William and Georgia Lee Evans and two brothers, Joseph “Bo” Evans and Mark Evans. Survivors include his wife of fifteen years, Helen Malchan-Evans; son, Grover Evans Jr.; daughter, Siobhan Osborne; brother, Michael Evans; two sisters, Cora Lee Hester, Suzette Evans; sister n law, Vicky Evans-Vincent; granddaughter, Jasmine Crawford; six nephews: Grover Hester, Marcus Evans, Nicky Jay Evans, Caleb Evans, Marcus Jay Evans, Monty Evans and five nieces: Marqusha Evans, Tiki Evans, Victoria Evans, Marliyah Evans and Jadeden Evans. 

LITTLE ROCK, AR (KAIT) - For lasting memorials, the family asks to please consider the Spinal Cord Commission, 1501 N University Ave # 470, Little Rock, AR 72207 or Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, 1321 S Van Buren St, Little Rock, AR 72204.

Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.

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