Longtime Los Altos resident Jane Gillespie Evans ’73, the first female engineering graduate hired by Hewlett-Packard, died Dec. 1 after a long battle with cancer. Mrs. Evans, who relocated to Palo Alto in recent years, was 84.
Mrs. Evans was born and raised in Houston, Texas, the daughter of James Walker Gillespie and Fleetwood Vinson Gillespie. She graduated from Rice University in 1946 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
In 1948, she married her college sweetheart, John Evans, whom she met while he was completing his doctorate in nuclear physics at Rice. She worked at Union Carbide in Texas, Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in New Mexico, and the National Reactor Testing Station in Idaho.
When they moved to the Bay Area, Mrs. Evans quickly realized the importance of electronics and, in 1965, became the first woman to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from San Jose State University.
HP hired her as its first female engineering graduate. While working at HP, Mrs. Evans earned a master’s degree from Santa Clara University.
For 25 years, she played a significant role in HP’s rise as a global provider of electronics and computers. She was a role model to countless engineers, women, and men, exemplifying the best of the profession.
Longtime friend Lyndell Kelly said Mrs. Evans served as mentor and role model for women aspiring to engineering careers.
Kelly noted that Mrs. Evans was proud of this role. She quoted from a 2002 Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) Grid magazine article written about her: “(Mrs. Evans) nurtured their aspirations and urged them to take charge of their career path, moving purposely, choosing directions rather than bobbing ‘like a cork in the ocean,’ bouncing from job to job. ‘Write your own chapter,’ she urged young females, encouraging them to think about what women could distinctly bring to the table, then promoting the need for this. Her approach inspired many men as well.”
Mrs. Evans’ legacy will be continued through the establishment of endowments for scholarships for aspiring female students in the areas of science and technology at two of her alma maters, San Jose State University Engineering School and Rice University.
Mrs. Evans also enjoyed hands-on work, doing such stereotypically male work as tuning cars and changing the oil.
“She was a great lover of sing-a-longs,” Kelly said. “She was known at the Vi (Hyatt) for her ability to remember the entire lyrics of almost every song.”
Mrs. Evans was an active leader of IEEE, serving on the local, regional and national levels. She was chairwoman of the board of directors of the 1997 WESCON Conference. Under her leadership, WESCON was held in Silicon Valley for the first time.
She was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of Women Engineers, where she served on the national board of trustees.
Mrs. Evans received IEEE’s Centennial Medal, the Career Action Center’s Woman of Vision Award, San Jose State University’s Engineering Award of Distinction and the Girl Scouts of Santa Clara County’s World of Today and Tomorrow award. In 1999, the Silicon Valley Engineering Council inducted her into its Hall of Fame.
The Evanses settled in Los Altos and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1998, before Mr. Evans’ death the following year.
Mrs. Evans is survived by nephews Christopher Moore and Charles Moore. Her sisters Minne Williams and Anne Palmer predeceased her.