Taken from the May 2016 issue of The Rotarian
The boys of U2 are home. It’s Friday, 27 November, two weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris. Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen Jr. had been in Paris that terrible evening, rehearsing at the venue where they were scheduled to perform the following night. Instead, they had to be evacuated. This band has always been known for its political and social activism, and its songs’ messages against war and terrorism. Tonight, those themes feel particularly relevant.
At 3Arena, once a railway station in the Dublin Docklands, thousands of fans are happily mashed together on the standing-room-only floor. They’re drinking beer and buzzing restlessly as they wait for their hometown heroes, who are wrapping up their six-month iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE Tour, to take the stage. When the plaintive opening “ohhh-OH-oh ” notes of “The Miracle of Joey Ramone ” sound, followed by The Edge’s scorching, staccato guitar riff –ba-DA-dah, ba-DA-dah – the crowd goes insane.
The Edge’s father, Garvin Evans, 84, was in the arena to hear his son play in the first of four Dublin shows earlier this week, and he will be here again for what was meant to be the final show of the U2 tour. (The band will return to Paris for two rescheduled shows.) The following day, Evans, a tenor, will be singing in a local production of Messiah.
Evans is a big fan not only of U2 but also of Handel, Welsh hymns, golf (he’s an honorary life member of the Royal Dublin Golf Club), really good claret, and Tuesdays, “when three or four of us go to a pub and have a Guinness. ” He adores his three kids, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. He is secretary of his Presbyterian church and sings in the choir. He is also a longtime member of Rotary and the reason The Rotarian is visiting Dublin: to speak with him and his son about what they have in common and how they’ve inspired each other to try to make the world a better place.
Frequent Rotarian contributor Julie Bain meets them in the five-star Merrion Hotel in Dublin’s city center. Both men arrive early and looking spiffy, Evans in a black and red plaid tie and The Edge, born David Evans, in his signature knitted cap and buttery-soft black leather jacket. Evans, born in South Wales, displays a bit of the characteristic Welsh reserve, and so does his son, who was born in London in 1961 before his parents moved to Dublin in 1962. (His mother, Gwenda, died in 2012.) The two don’t hug, but they are clearly affectionate and loving. Here, they discuss the topics that are most meaningful to them.
ON IRISH PRIORITIES
EVANS: I’ll never forget my first day in Dublin. I arrived on a Saturday morning. Before lunch I had bought a house [in the northern suburb of Malahide], subject to my wife’s approval, which she gave. And then I did the important thing and went and watched the East of Ireland golf championships up in Baltray. I tell you, it didn’t take us long to integrate.
THE EDGE: Without doubt, Dublin is home to me. It’s pretty amazing I can still come home to the house I grew up in. That’s a great reflection on the Irish people, because they don’t really buy in to the celebrity system so much. Are you a person of integrity, and do you have a sense of humor? Are you good fun? Those are things that matter to the Irish, not how big your house or your car is. The Irish would never allow us to get too big for our boots.
EVANS: Dave was born with a smile on his face and was intensely curious about everything. He hasn’t changed a bit.
THE EDGE: We all drift off from time to time, but the healthy thing is to be purely yourself, meaning the same person you were as a kid. It’s consistency. I put a lot of effort into not allowing the success of the band to become in any way detrimental to my values or ideas. We try to avoid the excesses. And if you’ve been blessed, you do what you can to give back.
EVANS: Back in the 1950s my late wife’s uncle was a Rotarian, and he arranged for Gwenda to go on an exchange program to Sweden. I found out a little bit about Rotary in those days and became intrigued. So when I was approached in 1968, when The Edge was just seven, to join this fledgling club to be known as Dublin North Rotary Club, I jumped at it.
I am, alas, the only founding member of the club still alive. I have been club president twice, been awarded two Paul Harris fellowships, served as district Rotaract extension officer, and two years ago as district secretary for Rotary Ireland, when Verity Swan became the first woman district governor for Rotary Ireland. [Evans’ two other children, Richard and Gillian, participated in short-term Rotary Youth Exchanges.]
THE EDGE: I was aware of Rotary, but I was quite ignorant about what was going on. I knew my dad wore this funny pin on his lapel from time to time. You pick up tidbits as you grow up, and I understood as time went on that it was mostly about charitable activities and outreach in the community and kind of general social enterprise-type activities.
My own world of involvement with philanthropy and activism started through the band. Having achieved a certain level of success, we had this platform and opportunity to do things. It was a very pleasant shock to see how my world and my dad’s world had come full circle when I discovered that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which our band has been associated with for a while, had partnered with Rotary to take on polio. I suddenly got a full sense of what Rotary was about. I went to a dinner with my dad [honoring his 40th year in Rotary] and saw the level of commitment and the immense value of Rotary that evening. That’s when I finally got it.
EVANS: As a child I was very aware of the dangers of polio. Every summer in Wales, it was dreaded. It wasn’t until Dr. Jonas Salk developed his vaccine that we were able to come to grips with it. And even then you had to get it to the people. That’s what Rotary is about.
THE EDGE: It’s hard to differentiate between activism and philanthropy, because whether you’re giving your time or money, you want to take advantage of whatever platform you have to get the best results. For me that often turns out to be music-related, obviously. And it’s often very personal. That’s why after Hurricane Katrina I was co-founder of a new charity called Music Rising that was focused on preserving the music culture of New Orleans.
I had met so many of the musicians from that area, and we were able to get a lot of them back to work by replacing their equipment and instruments. Then the next phase was to get the schools and churches re-equipped. Then we managed to establish a new course of study at Tulane University focused on the music of the area, which I’m extremely proud of. It’s a legacy project because it means that these great musical traditions are being documented and understood in a much more in-depth way.
EVANS: Incidentally, I had the interesting experience of playing golf with Bill Clinton in 2009. We shared a buggy, and he talked a lot about Music Rising. He was quite aware of it and very impressed because he said he used to go to New Orleans in his younger days and jam with the musicians. So it got through to the presidential level! You never know.
EVANS: I’m a tenor, and I still sing in choir, although I don’t do as much solo work as I used to. But I really enjoy most types of music, apart from country and western. And traditional Irish music doesn’t send me wild.
THE EDGE: I remember growing up, there were a couple of standout musical experiences that I associate with home and my parents. We had a piano and a record player in the living room, so that room was infused with music a lot of the time. We had a collection of my dad’s classical records, some great Frank Sinatra records, and some obscure things like Herb Alpert. Then at a certain age, my brother and sister and I started to acquire a couple of our own LPs. Our very first purchases were the Beatles. We bought A Hard Day’s Night and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Those are the early influences that I associate with home.
But the other one that made a huge impact was church singing. We had a decent enough set of voices in our Presbyterian church in Malahide. But it was when I would go with my parents back to Wales, we would go to chapel and have this experience of hearing an entire Welsh congregation singing hymns in perfect four- part harmony. Literally the hairs on the back of my neck went up because it’s so unbelievably powerful.
THE EDGE: Not many people knew that my youngest daughter was diagnosed with leukemia when she was seven. There are certain personal things that you just don’t want to bring into your public life. At that time, it was extremely difficult for the family, and I did not want to add any sort of media coverage around it. We met many families in far worse situations. Our daughter’s chances of survival were always very high. But it was an ordeal nonetheless. She had a lot of chemo over a very long period of time.
When your child is ill, as a parent the first thing you try to do is fully understand what’s going on. So I dove into the science of cancer treatment. I stumbled upon the Angiogenesis Foundation through a friend who told me about William Li, the CEO. So initially I was just asking Dr. Li a thousand questions about everything he knew about cancer treatment and how angiogenesis inhibitors could be part of a cure. [A new class of cancer drugs starves cancerous tumors of oxygen and nutrients by blocking angiogenesis, the growth of blood vessels.]
As time went on, I got more and more impressed by what they were doing and decided to commit to being a board member. I’ve been on the board for almost 10 years now. About 100 drugs are in the R&D pipeline now. It’s a revolution in medicine.
EVANS: I have a spinoff of this, because I’ve had cancer for the last 10 years. I had chemotherapy yesterday, actually.
THE EDGE: Dad is here in part because of the revolution in angiogenesis treatments.
EVANS: Absolutely. I’ve had, let me see, colon cancer, liver cancer twice, lung cancer, and, at the moment, pleural cancer. I’m living with it. And I’m fortunate that the anti-angiogenesis drug I’m on is keeping the cancer at bay, and it has very little side effects.
THE EDGE: The thing about a father-son relationship is that you often end up not exactly doing what you were told but imitating what you saw happen. My father’s instinct for philanthropy, for activism and engagement, had an effect on me. And he definitely influenced what I do and say to my kids. When it comes to parenting techniques and philosophy, it’s funny to observe the echoes of what my mom and dad were like as parents reflected in me. I recognize that influence in tiny, trivial things. That’s the moment when it crystallizes and you think, “Oh, wow! There’s a lineage, a heritage here, and I’m part of that. ”
EVANS: Well, Gwenda and I were never Victorian parents. When Edge wanted to choose the band over college, we talked about it and we said, “Let him do it, let him get it out of his system. If it works, great. If it doesn’t work, at least you can never turn around and say we thwarted his ambitions. ” So we were pretty laid back about it. I think I could sum up our approach in these words, as advice to all parents, really: Never stand in the way of your children’s dreams – they might just come true.