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.
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.