The speeches were just the opening act. In November he took his strongest action to date by disagreeing with the FOMC's decision not to change monetary policy. He dissented again in December.

It sounds subtle, but it was a big step. His past two predecessors at the Chicago Fed had never dissented from the consensus view at the FOMC, Evans said.

"I was extremely reluctant to push things to the point of dissenting last fall," Evans said. "I am normally quite comfortable with the consensus positions. But I did get to the point where I just thought that the economic literature as I understand it, the number of people who are staking out analyses which indicated that more accommodation was appropriate, was completely in line with my viewpoints."

In January, the Fed didn't take any action. But in a possible nod to Evans, it pledged its intent to hold down the federal funds rate through late 2014.

Christiano, his collaborator at Northwestern, applauds Evans' courage in the face of much criticism.

"To be honest, when I knew him as a young guy, I didn't anticipate this kind of strength, leadership and vision," he said. "It's kind of cool to watch."

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Charles Evans, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago

Family: Wife Ann, and two children, ages 19 and 24.

Why he's speaking out: The Fed is supposed to achieve two goals through its monetary policy: support maximum employment and control inflation. Evans believes the Fed isn't meeting the jobs goal, as unemployment remains high.

Golf handicap: "At best a 16."

Hobbies: "I always fail the hobby question." A past profile listed one of his hobbies as gardening. After reading the story, family friends gave Evans a rake as a gift, joking that they had never seen him use one.

Personal: Born in Greenville, S.C., his family moved to Alexandria, Va., when he was young. He attended T.C. Williams High School, made famous in the movie "Remember the Titans," which is based on actual events in 1971 when the school hired its first black football coach.