Nan Tucker McEvoy was a newspaper heiress who headed the parent company of the San Francisco Chronicle in the 1980s and 1990s and who, as a longtime Washington resident, became the first woman to chair the governing board of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
McEvoy was already one of the richest women in the United States when she netted hundreds of millions of dollars in 1999 from the sale of The Chronicle, which she led for 14 years as board chairwoman and principal owner.
Her grandfather, M.H. de Young, founded The Chronicle with his brother in 1865, and Ms. McEvoy worked as a reporter at the newspaper in her 20s.
For 36 years, McEvoy made her home in Washington, where she was a quiet but forceful figure in the worlds of politics, public service and cultural philanthropy. She participated in the 1956 presidential campaign of Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson and, in 1961, became a top aide to R. Sargent Shriver, the founding director of the Peace Corps.
McEvoy led the Peace Corps’ Africa program for two years before becoming the agency’s head recruiter of permanent staff members. In 1965, she opened the Washington office of the Population Council, a nonprofit agency addressing global issues of population, poverty, development and health. She also served as a U.S. delegate to UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations, in the 1960s.
In 1981, McEvoy became chairwoman of the parent company of The Chronicle, which was still controlled by her family. She moved from Washington to San Francisco in 1989 to manage the media business, which included the newspaper, a book publishing company, television stations and other holdings. She and her son owned one-third of the company; the other shares were held by about two dozen other family members.
McEvoy was often described as a West Coast version of former Washington Post Co. chairman Katharine Graham, her longtime friend and Georgetown neighbor.
In San Francisco, McEvoy replaced several relatives at the underperforming Chronicle. She especially disliked the paper’s conservative editorial slant under the direction of its publisher, Richard T. Thieriot, who was McEvoy’s cousin.
“It made me mad, in a city that is not conservative Republican,” she told the New York Times in 1994, that “we did not reflect the sense of the city or the way I felt about things.”
Despite improvements to The Chronicle’s journalism and bottom line, McEvoy’s moves led to a rift in the family. When some suggested that the company should be sold, she reportedly thundered, “Over my dead body!”
*Hall of Fame inductees are selected annually by a committee appointed by the California Press Foundation. They recognize career achievements of weekly and daily publishers in California who were important and influential in their era, as judged by their peers in the association. The write-ups are a historical and journalistic snapshot in time and not official biographies.*