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Joan Evans, former prosecutor, dies

Joan E. Evans, 56, a one-time Wyandanch resident

Joan E. Evans, 56, a one-time Wyandanch resident whose edgy mix of intellect, social activism, humor and a skydiver's sense of adventure propelled her, first into documentary filmmaking and eventually into the upper ranks of the legal profession, died in her sleep Aug. 9. She succumbed to cancer. Credit: Handout

Joan Evans' conviction to do the right thing powered the former Wyandanch resident's rise through Yale Law School and helped her reach the highest ranks of the legal profession when she served as a federal prosecutor.

It was that penchant for justice that compelled the devout Catholic to leave the law in search of the serenity of a convent.

Evans, whose life her family described as a mixture of intellectual pursuit, humor, social activism and spiritual quest, died of cancer Aug. 9 at the Bay Shore home of her sister, Catherine Peacock.

She was 56.

"Joan was way passionate about whatever she did," said her brother, Martin C. Evans of Forest Hills Gardens, a Newsday reporter. "It's impossible to think that our family can be as vibrant without her."

Born in Cleveland, she was the fourth of seven children of John Evans, a computer engineer who worked for Grumman, and Wanda Evans, who became a Syosset school librarian.

They moved to New York in 1959, living in Wyandanch briefly but settling in Jamaica and then Laurelton. Joan Evans attended the State University of New York at Buffalo.

It was at Yale Law School, though, where she began to impress with her legal acumen and eloquent arguments.

"I remember her as radiant and holding firm and resolute opinions," said Judge Stephen Higginson, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans, who was Evans' law journal editor-in-chief at Yale.

She graduated and clerked for the late Judge Frank Altimari of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York. She then practiced with several law firms, including the New York office of Debevoise & Plimpton, and then went to work for the U.S. attorney's office

But in the late 1990s, she battled episodes of clinical depression. She began to see herself as a prosecutor whose application of the law was having a disproportionately negative effect on poor and minority communities, a role at odds with her Catholic conviction to uplift the downtrodden, Martin Evans said.

She resigned as an assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond, Va., sold her house, and gave the proceeds of the sale to the poor -- the first step toward a new mission to join the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine monastery in Bethlehem, Conn., that her sister, Monica, had joined and become the Rev. Mother Elizabeth, O.S.B. But Joan Evans was not accepted into the order, he said.

Besides siblings Martin Evans, the Rev. Mother Elizabeth and Catherine Peacock, she is survived by a brother, John A. Evans, of Potomac, Md., and a sister, Marian Melnick, of Watertown, Mass.; and six nieces and nephews.

A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church of Bay Shore. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Abbey of Regina Laudis.

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