Dismissing someone as unbalanced takes the pressure off the rest of us, and allows us to go about our business.
For two generations, George Michael Evica was known internationally as the grandfather of all John F. Kennedy assassination researchers. The University of Hartford emeritus professor of literature emphatically held that the commonly accepted wisdom - that malcontent Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in shooting the president in November 1963 - was a lie.
In the minds of some, that placed Evica in the same school as people who believe in Bigfoot, but for people who listened to his multiple lectures at JFK assassination conferences, to his nearly 40 years of Hartford classroom lectures, or to his long-running weekly half-hour radio show on WWUH, "Assassination Journal," Evica was a heavily resourced, highly intelligent nudge toward the truth.
That voice was silenced Saturday. Evica, of Hartford, died after multiple illnesses, including cancer and brain tumors. He was a month short of his 80th birthday.
On Friday, the man known for his boundless energy told his beloved wife, Alycia, "Today is the day," and settled in to die.
"He crossed some kind of threshold," said Alycia Brierley Evica, a popular high school teacher and actress.
Similarly, when Evica - known to friends by his first two names, George Michael - went through chemotherapy, he announced that he didn't want to lose his hair, said Laura Elayne Miller, a West Hartford native who is making a documentary on the professor.
"And he didn't," said Miller. "It's amazing. His positive attitude radiates off of him. I swear that kept him alive for the last few years."
Friends spoke of Evica's unflappable honesty and his energy. "I have two words for George Michael Evica: intellectually curious," said former University of Hartford colleague Paul Stacy. "When I first came to the university, he impressed me most of all. There was such a flow of words and it took me some time to realize I had to listen carefully. That flow of words could be boiled down to something really good and helpful and generous. But even more than generous, he would say what he thought without any regard to how it might hit the FBI, the CIA, the students, his friends. And it wasn't arrogance. It wasn't showmanship. It was sincere and courageous honesty."
Evica started seriously researching the assassination after sifting through documents about the Watergate break-in and finding names associated with both historical events. His first book, "And We Are All Mortal: New Evidence and Analysis in the Assassination of John F. Kennedy," was published by University of Hartford in 1978, and made Evica a darling among assassination researchers. His second book, "A Certain Arrogance: U.S. Intelligence's Manipulation of Religious Groups and Individuals in Two World Wars and the Cold War - and the Sacrificing of Lee Harvey Oswald," was published in 2006.
In the first book, Evica wrote what he later playfully called the single longest, grammatically correct sentence ever published. It appears in the introduction, and starts, "A single bullet could have caused Kennedy's back of the neck wound" and continues for 21 lines.
(It's followed by "Though fairly pleased with my own single-sentence effort to trace the single-bullet's path...")
Beyond his fascination with history, Evica loved theater and poetry. He taught college courses on investigative reporting. He played jazz piano as a youth, said Chuck Obuchowski, host of a WWUH jazz show, who watched Alycia accompany George Michael into the studio until illness forced him to stop in early July.
"It was profoundly moving to me," said Obuchowski. "When he was unable to drive, she would bring him in, and sit with him while he did his show. I often thought he was doing himself a disservice continuing to call his show `Assassination Journal,' but that's how it was known. He covered so many other events."
After she met him at the college's radio station, Miller said, "Somebody needs to make a documentary about that man." She approached Evica in April 2006, about the time he was being treated for lung cancer. "I have him in hospital beds going on about Jack Ruby, and you're like, `Are you serious?' It makes him endearing and fascinating.
"There's something really amazing about the few people in life who are so passionate that that is their life," Miller said. "Those are the people who make change and influence others."
During an interview with Miller, Evica calls himself a "radical historian," along the lines of Howard Zinn and others who understand the importance of getting the story straight. WWUH station manager John Ramsey said Evica's shoes - and time slot - are nearly impossible to fill.
"George Michael had such credibility, nothing that smacked of UN-world-order-takeover stuff," said Ramsey. "He was a college professor and father figure at the same time." He said Evica once filed a Freedom of Information request, and asked the FBI and the CIA for any documents that included his name. He received "thousands of pages with information crossed out," said Ramsey. "Some of it was transcripts from his show. This was pre-Internet. Anyone who was writing down what he was saying was sitting somewhere listening to it. We liked to think there was someone at the federal building downtown, writing down every word."
"The thing about George Michael that was most striking was he had such a wide range of knowledge," said Virginia Hale, another University of Hartford colleague. "Before he got involved with the Kennedy assassination, he was a teacher of linguistics, of myth and ritual, the genres of comedy and tragedy."
Ed McKeon, who hosts a WWUH folk music show, called Evica brilliant and necessary.
"I think it's very easy to go along your merry way in life and not have skepticism for what's presented to us, what's laid before us as the truth," McKeon said. "I think that's the one thing I learned from him: You always ought to question authority, question what someone is trying to convince you is the truth. Truth is slippery, but for the good of ourselves, we need to pursue it."
In addition to his wife, Evica leaves a daughter and two grandchildren.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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