Notable Alums


Specialty: General Surgery

Graduation Year: Res. 1976

Walter Evans

Walter Evans, born in Savannah, Ga., in 1943, was the youngest of five children. His father, Fred, was a self-employed carpenter who in 1947 moved his family to Beaufort, South Carolina. When he was 9 years old, the senior Evans was killed when his car collided with an 18-wheel tractor trailer truck.

In 1958, Willie Mae Rakestraw Evans, a nurse, moved the family to Hartford, Conn., in search of a better job. Walter and two of his siblings made the move; his oldest brother had already joined the U.S. Navy and his oldest sister was attending college. Mrs. Evans was hired by Mount Sinai Hospital in Hartford.

Walter attended high school in Hartford, where his teachers and most of his classmates were white. He believes now that his father’s death and the subsequent move North greatly affected his behavior, and if that had not happened, he probably would have attended college immediately after high school. Instead, he followed his brother’s lead and joined the U.S. Navy after graduation.

During the latter half of his three-year enlistment, he was stationed at the naval hospital in Philadelphia, Pa., where he discovered a passion for art. He also found enjoyment in reading classic books, and developed a special interest in the writings of a number of African-American authors.

After completing his naval service, he enrolled in Howard University in Washington, D.C. Although he received some financial help from the government as a veteran, his main financial support came from a variety of jobs he took on. He was just two classes short of graduation from Howard in 1968 when he was accepted into Meharry Medical College on a full scholarship. After two years at Meharry, he transferred to the medical school at the University of Michigan, again with a full scholarship, and graduated two years later. He served his surgical internship and general surgery residency in the Wayne State University program.

Dr. Evans completed his surgical residency in 1976 and became a member of the WSU Department of Surgery clinical faculty, joining the staffs of Hutzel, Grace, Harper and Children’s Hospitals. His main surgical practice was at Hutzel, where he became chief of general surgery in 1988 with the academic title of clinical assistant professor of surgery. Dr. Evans remained at Hutzel until 1992, when he moved his practice to Harper. From 1997 until his retirement in 2001, he was chair of the Surgical Committee at Harper and a member of the executive committee of the DMC.

Dr. Evans continues to work in medicine by travelling to remote and underserved regions of South America performing pro bono work in surgery. Not uncommonly, he will make three one-week trips in a year to countries such as Peru, Columbia and Venezuela.

Following the completion of his surgical residency, Dr. Evans got his start as an art collector when purchased a series of 22 silk screen prints by Jacob Lawrence titled “The Legend of John Brown.” He subsequently came to know Lawrence well. He also became a friend of African-American artist Romare Bearden, many of whose works are an important part of his collection.

Dr. Evans has amassed a sizeable and eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures and other media, all created by African-American artists. The more than 500 pieces span a 150-year period, a cultural legacy that he came to feel a personal responsibility to share. To that end, he and his wife, Linda, selected and assembled approximately 80 pieces for an exhibition that began in 1991 and traveled continuously until 2007. The collection was shown in more than 45 museums and university galleries in the U.S., and selections from the exhibit were loaned to several U.S. embassies and major museums throughout the world.

He and Linda live in Savannah and have donated 70 significant works to the Savannah College of Art and Design. The college built a $34 million expansion to the SCAD Museum of Art that now houses the Walter O. Evans Collection in one wing and serves as the home for the Walter O. Evans Center for African-American Studies at the college.

Although he is best known for his collection of African-American works of art, Dr. Evans has also assembled an extensive collection of more than 100,000 books, documents and manuscripts. In 2010, he was asked to select his favorite 10 to discuss at the Library of Congress, which he did on April 30 of that year. The 70-minute talk is available for viewing at He also owns the largest private collection of Frederick Douglass’ personal papers. Numerous Douglass scholars have made frequent visits to Savannah for research purposes. He has also welcomed visitors researching his collections of such notables as James Baldwin, Toussaint L’Ouverture and Malcolm X.