|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Alabama's 1st district
January 3, 1965 - January 3, 1985
|Frank W. Boykin|
William Jackson Edwards
September 20, 1928
Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.
|Died||September 27, 2019 (aged 91)|
Fairhope, Alabama, U.S.
|Relations||William F. Aldrich (great-great grandfather)|
William Jackson Edwards (September 20, 1928 - September 27, 2019) was an Alabama lawyer and politician who represented the 1st Congressional district in the United States House of Representatives from 1965 to 1985. A Republican, Edwards first won election to Congress in 1964, one of five Republicans elected to the House from Alabama amid Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's sweep of the state in that year's presidential election.
During Ronald Reagan's presidency, Edwards became the vice chairman of the Republican leadership and was a member of the United States House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He oversaw the funding for the rebuilding efforts of Alabama's Dauphin Island Bridge in 1979.
William Jackson Edwards III was born near Birmingham, Alabama in 1928. His father, William Jackson Edwards Jr. (1908-1996), had grown up in Decatur, Alabama and worked for the Rural Electrification Administration at various jobs and receiving promotions until he headed the engineering department. Young Jack also knew and shared his formal name with his long-lived grandfather, William Jackson Edwards (1872-1961). He had a sister, Julia Caroline Edwards Brock, and grew up in Homewood, Alabama during the Great Depression. His great-grandfather was Perry Jackson Edwards (1847-1919) of Decatur, Alabama (nicknamed "Captain Jack"), who rose to become chief inspector of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. Young Jack also knew his long-lived great uncle Perry Jackson Edwards (1895-1980). When young Jack was 17, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and served until 1951 (as the Korean War began). His great-great grandfather, William F. Aldrich, had been the last Republican congressman from the state, serving (with a few months' break) from 1896 to 1901.-->
After becoming a member of the Alabama Bar, Edwards eventually moved to Point Clear, a suburb of Mobile and opened a law practice there. He became president of the Mobile Area Jaycees and in 1961 was named one of the Outstanding Young Men in America by the national Jaycees organization. Edwards also served as president of the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo as well as chairman of America's Junior Miss Pageant. Beginning in 1960, he advised Mobile's Planning Commission's Transportation Policy Committee.
In November 1964, Edwards defeated Democrat John M. Tyson Sr. and Mobile activist Noble Beasley to become the U.S. Congressman representing Alabama's 1st congressional district. Alabama had lost one of its nine seats after the 1960 federal census, and after a statewide vote, the first district's Democratic incumbent, Frank Boykin, a 28-year congressional veteran recently again implicated in a corruption scandal, had been the lowest vote-getter and thus redistricted out of his office. Since Alabama could not actually lose its first district, Tyson (a lawyer like Edwards and who served in both houses of the Alabama legislature) had become his party's candidate after the Democratic primary in which he defeated Clara Stone Fields, the only woman in the Alabama legislature during that decade.
Edwards became one of five Republicans elected to the House from Alabama amid Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater's sweep of the state in that year's presidential election. Edwards defeated Democrat John Tyson, Sr. by 19 points. He went on to be reelected nine times and served alongside five American presidents. He
During his time in Congress, Edwards worked for development of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and served on the House Appropriations Committee as well as became the ranking Republican on the Defense subcommittee. Reportedly President Ronald Reagan's point man to improve national defense, Edwards also led efforts to establish both the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge and the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. During Reagan's presidency, he became the vice chairman of the House Republican conference leadership. He was the ranking Republican member on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. After serving on the committee for ten years, he had become a national defense expert. He was also a member of the House Banking Committee. Edwards voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
According to the Alabama governor's office, Edwards was a strong supporter of Reagan's military buildup. In 1979, after a devastating hurricane, Alabama's Dauphin Island bridge had to be rebuilt, and Edwards oversaw the funding.
Edwards announced he would not run again in 1984, and Vice-President George H.W. Bush spoke at his retirement dinner. Edwards then joined the Hand Arendall law firm, where he practiced law for another two decades. in 1988, he chaired the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Edwards continued his civic involvement in Mobile, becoming as chairman of the board of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as serving on various boards of trustees, including of the University of Alabama System, his alma mater (from 1988 til 1999, and became its president after his retirement from the law firm. He was a member on the boards of the Mobile Opera, Mobile Economic Development Council and the Mayor's Waterfront Advisory Committee, among others. From 1987 to 1996, he served on the board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. In 1988, he served as co-chairman of the Secretary of Defense's first commission, known as the 1988 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC I). In his final years Edwards, worked in the areas of constitutional reform, education, the environment and economic development in the Mobile area. He also served on the corporate boards of several companies such as The Southern Company, Holcim Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, QMS Inc., Dravo Corporation and The Aerospace Corporation. According to Alabama governor Kay Ivey, Edwards was respected by both Democrats and Republicans.
In 1987, Edwards was named Alabama's Volunteer Industrial Developer of the Year. In 1985, he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor. In 1987, he was named Mobilian of the Year. In 2005, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the University of Alabama's College of Communications and Information Sciences.
Edwards died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Fairhope, Alabama, on September 27, 2019, seven days after his 91st birthday. Alabama governor Kay Ivey said Edwards "served his state and nation with the highest degree of integrity" and said flags at the Alabama State Capitol would be flown at half-staff in his honor.
A statement released by Edwards' family quoted him as having said "My hope is that my great grandchildren will grow up in a country where civility will have been returned to common discourse and to the efforts to solve the country's problems."