By Steve Flowers
One of the greatest Congressmen and leaders in Alabama history is Congressman Jack Edwards.
He passed away three weeks ago at age 91.
He was born with the full name of William Jackson Edwards, III. However, he was always known as Jack. Although he was renowned as acongressman for Baldwin and Mobile counties, he was born and raised in Jefferson County. He received his early education in public schools and graduated from high school in Homewood.
He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1946. He continued his military service from 1946 through 1951 and served during the Korean War.
Following his military service, he attended the University of Alabama, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1952 and law degree two years later. While at the university, he was elected president of the student government association. He was also a member of Kappa Alpha fraternity and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. After law school, he taught business law at the university and married Jolane Vander Sys. They were married for 66 years and have two children.
In 1956, he moved to Point Clear in Mobile and began the practice of law in Mobile County.
Eight years later, he was elected Congressman from the famous first district, which is primarily comprised of Baldwin and Mobile counties.
Edwards went to Congress in what is referred to as the Southern Goldwater Landslide. The South voted overwhelmingly for the Republican nominee, Barry Goldwater. In fact, the South pulled the straight Republican lever that day and has never looked back. Alabama and five other Deep South states changed parties in November 1964.
A Republican presidential candidate had not carried Alabama in more than 70 years, and we had also had no Republican congressmen in those 70-plus years. Prior to that fateful November 1964 day, we had eight congressmen. All eight were Democrats. Five of the eight were wiped out by Republicans that day. Those new GOP congressmen went on to distinguished careers. Along with Jack Edwards, Bill Dickinson was elected from Montgomery, Jim Martin from Gadsden and John Buchanan from Birmingham.
Edwards and Dickinson had been friends since college. They both had been railroad lawyers when they were approached to run for Congress in 1964. They both may have been surprised to have been elected. However, they went on to do great work together in Congress. Both were experts on national defense and supported the defense industry. Edwards served on the Defense Appropriations Committee. Dickinson rose to be the ranking Republican on Armed Services.
Jack Edwards served in Congress exactly 20 years, from 1965 to 1985, with distinction. He was never seriously challenged politically during those 20 years. He decided to leave Congress at the fairly young age of 54. Edwards then wrote the book on how to contribute and have an effect on progress of the state after life in Congress.
He again began a law practice in Mobile. He joined the prestigious Hand Arendall law firm.
Edwards began the Governmental Affairs arm of the firm. This began a practice followed by other well-known firms in Birmingham. Edwards had developed a close friendship and working relationship with President Ronald Reagan. He had strongly supported President Reagan’s military buildup as the ranking Republican on the Defense Subcommittee on Appropriations.
He served a stint as chairman of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce. Like many other Mobilians, he and his wife settled in Fairhope near Point Clear. Edwards served on the Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama System from 1988 to 1999, and was President Pro Tem of the board before retirement. Additionally, he served on the corporate boards of the Southern Company as well as Northrup Grumman Corporation.
Through his board memberships and Washington connections, he was instrumental in Airbus choosing to locate in Mobile.
When he left Congress in 1984, he essentially handpicked his successor, State Sen. Sonny Callahan. Callahan served in Congress for 18 years, from 1984 to 2002. Callahan then endorsed his successor, Josiah “Jo” Bonner. Congressman Bonner served the district for 10 years with honor and distinction. Bonner is now Governor Ivey’s Chief of Staff and basically her right arm.
The First District has had a history of outstanding congressmen. The greatest may be the Honorable Jack Edwards.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.