SPARKS, Nev. - A selfless crusader who fought hard to protect the rights of those unable to fight for themselves is how friends and colleagues remembered Assemblywoman Jan Evans.
More than 200 people crowded into the auditorium at Robert Mitchell Elementary School here Wednesday night to celebrate the life of a woman who was a role model to many and a champion of the underprivileged.
Many in the audience knew about her work at the University of Nevada School of Medicine and her efforts as a lobbyist for women and families.
But few knew of her life growing up in foster homes in Ohio, where her best friends and closest family were the animals who lived in the barn.
Perhaps that's what made her such a staunch advocate for children, friends said.
''Jan lived not only with passion for issues, but compassion for people,'' said the Rev. John Ruby, who led the service.
The Sparks Democrat died April 26 after a year-long battle with ovarian cancer. She was 62.
''She built bridges, just look who's in this room today,'' Ruby said, gesturing toward the audience that included lawmakers from across the state and both political parties, lobbyists, colleagues from the university, constituents of her district, friends and family.
Former Lt. Gov. Sue Wagner, a close and longtime friend, said Evans knew how to show women their own self-worth. She was a mentor to many, always offering her time to listen. As single moms with two children, Wagner and Evans shared a special bond of friendship, something Wagner says she treasures.
''Jan came with a purpose, not of being remembered or for a legacy, but she did both,'' Wagner said. Evans, she said, taught a new generation of woman lawmakers the virtues of determination and integrity.
''She would be silent as we told the stories of the way she helped people just because she thought they needed help,'' said friend Maggie Tracey. ''Jan would turn now to the work that's undone. Jan's legacy must be more than a memory of the past.''
Assembly Speaker Joe Dini, D-Yerington, said Evans made a place in the Legislature long before she became a member in 1987. As a volunteer lobbyist, she would sit with Dini, then chairman of Government Affairs, and talk about issues she championed: juvenile justice, domestic violence and health care for families.
''Most of the committee chairs at that time were men and I don't think they talked to her much,'' Dini said. ''But she got me thinking about those issues.''
Leonard Pugh, director of Washoe County juvenile services, said Evans should be credited with bringing juvenile violence to light. She chaired an interim committee that studied the problem and created a framework for treatment and prevention of juvenile crime across the state.
She also got the state to pitch in for a new juvenile detention center for Washoe County, to replace the outdated Wittenberg Hall. Pugh said county and family court officials are working to get that new building named after Evans.
Although Evans did not enter public life for fame or glory, friends say she will long be remembered for her compassion and diligent work on behalf of the needy.
In a statement read by Ruby, Evans children, Rob and Tracey, said their mother raised the standard of what each and every individual should try to attain as a human being.
''She's an angel on earth who's gone home,'' said former medical school dean Robert Daugherty.