I am thrilled to announce the release of my latest book, Barriers: The life and legacy of Tom Evans. One year ago, John Sweeney, former editor of The News Journal, approached me about the possibility of compiling speeches and op-eds into a book for a former congressman. Although it isn’t exactly what I do, I was intrigued and met with John and Rep. Tom Evans at a little coffee shop near Tom’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.
I settled into a booth when my soon-to-be client arrived—a man in his late eighties with an enthusiasm that belied his age. Once we exchanged pleasantries, he proceeded to tell stories of his time in Congress, working alongside the most prominent politicians of the time. Dozens of black and white photos of Tom with presidents Nixon and Reagan, along with other notables like James Baker and Tip O’Neill, sprawled across the table as he explained the reason for each as if it happened just yesterday.
It was clear from the beginning this project might take more than originally pitched, but I still thought I could add a paragraph or two here and there to tie things together. Even though I hadn’t done something quite like this, and we weren’t on the same side of the political aisle, my instinct told me to go for it. Tom liked me and what I offered, and I took a liking to him, too. We agreed to start the following week.
But what John and others around him suggested, the compilation of prior writings around the environment, expanded into something much more significant. Our first meeting started in his small home office—lined with file cabinets, each bursting with writings from or about him. Speeches, op-eds, congressional testimony, articles from the Washington Post, and smaller publications from around the country overflowed from each drawer. And then, there were the boxes of yellow legal pads: his journal, notes, to-dos, and contacts for his next project and projects past. He invited me to read each one. I quickly became overwhelmed.
By the time I realized this would be more than what John presented to me, and even more than Tom did the first day in the coffee shop, it felt too late to back out. I had already spent countless hours reading and organizing his papers and photographs. He had already invested money in the project and in his hopes that his story would go down in history. Now, I understood he wanted me to write his biography, and he was determined to distribute the book to his impressive list of friends and former colleagues.
I had never written a biography before. Although I’ve worked for a university president, a former secretary of labor, and a chief infectious disease doctor, I had never had the privilege to work for a person who was an advisor to presidents and foreign dignitaries.
All this occurred when one of my closest friends, second only to his wife, was dying of cancer, when we were in a seemingly endless lockdown due to a global pandemic, and the country was devolving into political turmoil. I wasn’t sure I was up to it. I thought about quitting—more than once. But a little voice inside told me to stick with it.
And like the little engine that could, I willed my way through the first draft and finished within the timeframe we agreed upon. Experiencing near panic yet hopeful anticipation, I handed over the manuscript to the man who entrusted me with his life story—his legacy, not to mention his money.
He liked it.
I spent the next four months revising and editing, adding a little more flair and detail until it was finally time to let it go. Like most writers, I’ll always question a word choice here and there. Regardless, I feel the book is worthy of the man who commissioned it, the man who spent six years in Congress representing Delaware, the man who championed groundbreaking environmental legislation and showed his fellow legislators how to work together despite their differences, and the man who, at 89, still speaks out and inspires others to do the same.
I invite you to read his remarkable story.
All this is to say, don’t close doors because of fear. Walk through to the other side. You might be surprised by what you find.