Justin Evans, inspirational while facing adversity, dies at 42
To fully appreciate the virtues of Justin Evans, you could begin where he started, helping others in boyhood.
Waiting in a supermarket line with his mother and older siblings, he’d overhear shoppers worry they were short of cash and reach into his own pockets to lend them change — at age 6.
“Justin, from day one, was a very old soul,” said his mother, Susan. “He was just the kindest, most gentle person you’d ever want to meet.”
There were reasons to be anything but that, including a childhood diagnosis of neurofibromatosis — a painful and incurable genetic disorder that causes tumors to form on nerve tissue, the brain, and the spinal cord.
The illness also shortened his life. Justin Evans, who had lived in Stoneham, was only 42 when he died Easter Sunday in hospice care. He had developed a glioblastoma brain tumor, too.
As if he knew he’d have few years to touch the lives of those around him, he began setting an example when he was young — a child of faith who in later years became a devoted Sunday school teacher.
One day when they were young boys, he and Marco Desiderio, a close friend from across the street in Lynnfield, were on their way to Fenway Park to watch Justin’s father, outfielder Dwight Evans, play for the Red Sox. Their baby sitter stopped en route at a McDonald’s.
“I was ready to sink my teeth into my burger and he said, ‘No wait, we need to pray,’ ” Desiderio recalled. “I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Really, we have to give thanks.’ I said, ‘This is a McDonald’s.’ ”
Unfazed by his surroundings, Justin “really did it, he prayed from the heart, right there in McDonald’s,” Desiderio said, adding: “He was the first witness to faith in God I had as a young boy, apart from my parents.”
After Justin died, one of his friends spoke with his father “and said, ‘You know Justin never said anything bad about anybody,’ ” Dwight said. “Then he paused for 10 or 12 seconds, his eyes got wide and he said again, ‘I’m telling you, he never said anything bad about anybody.’ He was adamant about driving home the point.”
As an adult, as was the case when he was younger, Justin lent a hand wherever he could, along with his heart and soul.
For many years, his parents ran a golf tournament as a fund-raiser and are involved in supporting the Burlington-based organization that is now called Neurofibromatosis Northeast. That group, which is affiliated with the national NF Network, works to find treatments and a cure for the genetic disorder. The Evans family hopes those who want to remember Justin will contribute to the regional organization’s efforts.
When health allowed, Justin was always ready to help his parents or Neurofibromatosis Northeast, and “on his own, would go to any event they had and volunteer and work,” his mother said.
At Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield, meanwhile, he taught Sunday school for years, and assisted when the church expanded into another community.
The Pastor Brigham Lee, campus pastor at Calvary Christian Church, met Justin when they both went on a mission trip to Greece several years ago.
“He had a heart for children,” Lee added. “He loved telling them about Jesus and sharing his faith — and having the opportunity to get involved with our other volunteer staff.”
In the church community, like in other parts of his life, “Justin made friends,” Lee said. “Justin had friends everywhere.”
Born in 1977, Justin Dwight Evans was the second son and youngest child of Dwight M. Evans and Susan Severson Evans.
Justin grew up in Lynnfield, and his older brother, Timothy, also was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis. Though the disorder is genetic, Kirsten Evans — the middle child and the sister of Tim and Justin — was not diagnosed with the disorder, which is often referred to in shorthand as NF.
Tim, who is 46, has undergone 44 major surgeries over the years. In his Red Sox playing days, Dwight would sometimes go from the hospital to Fenway for a game, then back to the hospital to be with one son or the other.
Justin’s faith was strong from the start. “It was in his heart always,” his mother said.
“And he would pray,” she added. “He had no problem, even as a little kid, going up to someone who was sick and praying for them.”
When Justin was young, before he first exhibited symptoms of neurofibromatosis, he was already aiming to help when he could — even if it meant crafting a makeshift bouquet.
“If I wasn’t feeling good,” his mother said, “he’d go outside and all of a sudden he’d have a handful of dandelions with the dirt still hanging off.”
And then, suddenly, it was Justin who wasn’t feeling well. At age 5, he underwent radiation for neurofibromatosis, which along with treating a tumor also affected his pituitary gland — a side effect that left him shorter than most in his family.
During those hospital visits, and for subsequent treatments, he did the comforting, rather than demanding attention. “He’d go up to the old ladies there and say, ‘You look so nice today,’ ” his mother recalled. “He just made everyone smile. He never got angry or bitter.”
When Justin was 11, he underwent eight hours of surgery to remove a tumor that sat at the base of his skull and the top of his spine.
“He almost died,” his father said.
“He was out of school for a year, and had to have a teacher come to the house,” his mother said. “But again, a big smile on his face, happy to do what he was doing, never complained.”
Even before that surgery, and in the years after, Justin began helping out now and then at a souvenir shop across the street from Fenway Park, where he worked for Eddie Miller.
“He was a good kid, he really was. Very caring,” Miller said — and at times perhaps a bit too caring. Justin didn’t want anyone to leave empty-handed, paying customer or not.
Spotting a customer, Justin “would start talking to him, and the next thing you know he would give everything away — because he liked him, because he was a nice guy,” Miller said, adding with a chuckle. “He wasn’t setting the world on fire, sales-wise.”
Justin graduated from Lynnfield High School and from Curry College with a bachelor’s degree in communications. He worked for the state Department of Transportation, and for many years as a host at the Capital Grille restaurant in Burlington.
“When we’d go to the restaurant and watch him — he was hustling,” Dwight said. “He loved solving problems. He loved people.”
In addition to his parents, who divide their time between Lynnfield and Fort Myers, Fla.; his brother, who lives in Fort Myers; and his sister, who lives in Sudbury, Justin leaves his sister’s children, Ryan, Michael, Alyssa, and Darren Berardino, whom he would babysit on and off through the years.
“He’s Alyssa’s godfather,” Susan said. “He loved them and they very much loved him.”
A memorial service will be held 10 a.m. Saturday in Calvary Christian Church in Lynnfield. Private burial will be in Forest Hills Cemetery in Lynnfield.
Throughout Justin’s life, his kind heart and the way he always offered assistance remained constant.
“The amazing thing is he never changed,” his mother said. “If you wanted him to go pick up your grandmother, he would get in the car and do it. Anybody who asked him to do something, he would do it.”