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California Olive Oil Pioneer, Nan McEvoy

Mar. 31, 2015
Erick Mertz

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Often we find a term like leg­end” or titan” turned stale from overuse. That would not be the case, how­ever, with Nan Tucker McEvoy whose one unique life cast a titanic shadow over many aspects of our culture.

McEvoy, who accord­ing to her son Nion, passed away on March 26th from stroke com­pli­ca­tions, was a media heiress who at one time stood as one of the rich­est women in the United States. Her grand­fa­ther, Michael De Young founded the San Francisco Chronicle in 1865 where she later worked as a rare, female cub reporter.

Nan Tucker McEvoy

Ms. McEvoy came to own and oper­ate the par­ent com­pany of her family’s news­pa­per for many years, only ced­ing con­trol when a bylaw ousted her at 74. She was an active con­trib­u­tor in the polit­i­cal game, work­ing for UNESCO, Democratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Adlai Stevenson and Peace Corps founder R. Sargent Shriver.

As a patron and phil­an­thropist, she served as chair to the gov­ern­ing board of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum among other orga­ni­za­tions. And later she became an instru­men­tal fig­ure in the pro­duc­tion of some of California’s finest extra vir­gin olive oil.

After a hec­tic career in busi­ness, jour­nal­ism and pol­i­tics, McEvoy sought out a whole new adven­ture, what she referred to at the time as a won­der­ful place in the coun­try.” In the late 1980’s, in her six­ties, she pur­chased a 550-acre one time dairy ranch in rural Marin County, an idyl­lic set­ting first designed as her per­sonal retreat.

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Ever the free think­ing entre­pre­neur, McEvoy saw some­thing more in the rich land­scape and first con­sid­ered using it to con­tinue rais­ing cat­tle, but those seemed too labor inten­sive; she also con­sid­ered grow­ing vine­yard grapes on the rolling hill­side, but she opted instead to break with con­ven­tional think­ing. McEvoy, always act­ing the role of an icon­o­clast, decided she would plant an olive grove. The rest is history.

No one believed that her ven­ture would work, at least not at first. McEvoy yet again proved that bet­ting against her suc­cess was fool­hardy. After care­fully exam­in­ing the local micro­cli­mate and soil around Marin County, and con­sult­ing with a host of Tuscan experts, she impor­tant one thou­sand Tuscan seedlings and from that foun­da­tion, opened what came to be McEvoy Ranch.

In the three decades since the ranch was founded, the extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duced by McEvoy Ranch has been awarded count­less medals and received indus­try acco­lades the world over. Not only has the com­pany crafted some of the most dis­tinct arti­sanal extra vir­gin oils on the mar­ket, they branched into olive oil prod­ucts and were instru­men­tal in putting California on the olive pro­duc­ing map.

Nan McEvoy’s olive grove remains on the site it was first planted. Those seedlings have matured into healthy, strong trees, stand­ing as beau­ti­ful reminders of the spoils of a per­sis­tent vision. When any­one told Nan Tucker McEvoy that some­thing would be tough, or that it sim­ply could not be done, she had a knack for going out and prov­ing them wrong.

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