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Celebrating the life of former MUSC President James B. Edwards
Dawn Brazell MUSC News Center | December 29, 2014

Photos by Sarah Pack

Pallbearers at the funeral service for James B. Edwards at St. Philip's Church in Charleston. More photos 

Hundreds of people including state dignitaries came to honor and celebrate the life of the late James B. Edwards Dec. 29 in a packed sanctuary at St. Philip’s Church.
Gov. Nikki Haley was one of many state dignitaries in attendance at Edwards' funeral. Edwards remained active in politics throughout his life. 

Governor Nikki Haley joined former Governors Dick Riley, David Beasley and Mark Sanford among a host of other state officials at the funeral in downtown Charleston.

Edwards’ son-in-law Kenneth B. Wingate shared reflections during the service next to the flag-draped coffin. He described Edwards’ sense of humor, and said his humanity and humility really stood out.

“The biblical definition of good is generous with a willing spirit that allows one to put another’s interest above one’s own. It’s rare to find a great man. It’s more rare to find a good man. It’s exceedingly rare to find a great man who is good.”

Ann Edwards, center, receives condolences following the funeral. She and her husband were married for 63 years. 

Wingate also recapped highlights of the former governor of South Carolina’s career, including his military service, his work as an oral surgeon and his 17 years as president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

He said Edwards did more than any other 10 people combined, but would joke that all the things he did in his life just showed he couldn’t keep a job.

“Though he walked with kings and presidents and sat with leaders of commerce and industry, he never let the office go to his head.”

Wingate also described Edwards as a Renaissance man who could do anything well. “His joie de vivre was contagious.”

Following the funeral, H. Biemann Othersen, Jr., M.D., professor emeritus MUSC Division of Pediatric Surgery, reminisced about Edwards. The two were longtime friends. “He knew everybody by name and he would greet them with the same enthusiasm. He would greet the president the same way he would greet the janitor.”

Othersen said Edwards knew how to make people feel good, and he did it with sincerity. “It wasn’t put on, it wasn’t false. It was just him.”

Jim and Ann Edwards in front of the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. 

During Edwards’ 30 plus years as president and president emeritus at MUSC, he remained a staunch supporter of the institution. Wingate said after Edwards had a stroke in 2013 and could no longer take potential donors out to restaurants, he and his wife Ann would entertain them at home.

Othersen said Edwards had a gift for getting others to give for a good cause. “I always thought he was a good fundraiser because he made you feel good and made you feel good about giving.”

Philanthropy was just one gift of many in a varied career. Edwards was born in 1927 to a pair of teachers in Hawthorne, Florida. After high school, Edwards became a Merchant Marine as World War II was winding down, then headed back to study at the College of Charleston. He married Ann Darlington in 1951, went to dental school and served in the Navy. Edwards opened a practice in oral and maxillofacial surgery in Charleston in 1960. 

Edwards became politically active in the 1960s and won election to the state Senate in 1972. Two years later, he became the first Republican governor of South Carolina since reconstruction. Edwards went on to serve as energy secretary in President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet and then was recruited to become president of the Medical University of South Carolina. During his tenure, the university’s budget quadrupled and key construction and renovation projects were completed, including the Institute of Psychiatry, the Student Life Center and Children’s Hospital.

In 2010, the new MUSC dental building and dental school were named in Edwards’ honor. 

The Right Rev. Dr. C. FitzSimons Allison said Edwards’ generosity and commendable activities were rooted in a strong faith that he passed along to his family. His favorite verse was Micah 6:8 that reads in part ‘What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God?’ 

FitzSimons said it was a standard that served as Edwards’ guiding force - one that he lived by.

Reflections from MUSC staff and faculty

David J. Cole, M.D., MUSC president

Dr. Edwards (President, MUSC 1983-2000) took over the reins as president at a time when MUSC was a locally and regionally respected institution with finite resources, limited impact nationally and a small but dedicated faculty.  With his leadership and vision, MUSC started to transform and grow in scope, scale and quality - a legacy and momentum that even today is still evolving.

Jim Edwards
Photo provided
Jim Edwards and his wife Ann next to a  portrait of Edwards by Clyde Burnette. 

As an individual he was universally liked and respected. He had a personality that filled the room – truly, he never met anyone that he did not like. I had the privilege of joining the faculty as an assistant professor of surgery in 1994, and from day one he made me feel respected, included and at times like I quite possibly was his long lost younger brother.  We, and the patients we care for, owe a huge debt of respect and gratitude to Dr. Edwards for his leadership. He will be sorely missed. 

Jim Fisher, vice president for Development and Alumni Affairs

It was a true privilege to work with Dr. Edwards during his tenure at MUSC.  I was actually on campus when he arrived in the Fall of 1982.  I imagine that in your senior years you will look back on your life and think about those very few and extraordinary individuals who truly shaped and led your life. Other than my own father, Dr. Edwards will be the list-topper for me.

His life story reads like a novel.  He accomplished so much throughout his 87 years – enough for ten lifetimes.  Yet, throughout it all, he maintained a sincere humility.  I had the privilege of seeing him in the presence of national leaders and heads of corporate America.  I was also with him through strolls across campus when he would have the opportunity to speak to University employees from all areas. He enjoyed and cherished both interactions.  He would make all feel that at that moment they were the most important person in his life – and, they were!  He simply loved people, all colors, creed and background. He was so sincere. When he asked, 'how you doing, Pal?', he wanted to know.

All of us who had the honor of working with him knew him as a leader who would address every issue and challenge with a sense of optimism.  He was eternally upbeat regardless of the situation.

We will all remember his honesty, his integrity, his unwavering  faith, his sense of family, his loyalty to each of us and his humanity.  What I will remember most is his smile.  It was contagious and it spoke to me:  Life is good, let's work hard and enjoy the ride!

Sarah King, DHA, director of MUSC Public Relations

Among Dr. Edwards’ greatest gifts was that he genuinely cared about people. And they knew it.  I recall a man leaning out of a car and calling to Dr. Edwards as we were walking to the statehouse.  Dr. Edwards greeted him by name and asked the young man how his aunt’s back was doing.  Dr. Edwards had not seen the young man or his aunt (Dr. Edward’s patient) for decades.  He never forgot a face.

His leadership was inspirational and solution-driven; always listening with his heart and mind wide open, welcoming and valuing input.  He accepted responsibility for everything that happened, never passing the buck. He was generous and gracious with praise at all times.  One morning, during the attempted HCA merger, we received a less than flattering headline and I was distressed.  I apologized to Dr. Edwards as he was walking in. He just laughed and said, "Don't worry a minute about that.  The dogs bark and the caravan keeps moving."  He chose to live on the bright side, a philosophy that resonated in both his personal and professional life.

I count it among my most treasured gifts to have known him. 

Layton McCurdy, M.D., dean emeritus of the College of Medicine and distinguished university professor

I started working with Jim when I came to be dean July 1, 1990. We immediately hit it off. He was friendly and open. Rather quickly I learned that it was fun to joke with him. Early on I learned that many people could just wander into his office for a visit. He would often call me and say ‘Charlie or Jane Doe need a favor. You busy?’ He was eager to do favors. He sincerely enjoyed being helpful. 

He had a remarkable memory for names. We would be traveling within the state and people would come up to him and say "Governor, remember me?" And he would say, ‘Yes, Charlie, you are the guy whose sister had problems down in Allendale and I was able to help you get connected.’ I never saw him be unresponsive. 

Photo provided
Jim Edwards with Lisa Montgomery, executive vice president of finance and operations for MUSC, and former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings. 

As a leader he was masterful. He could envision things and help those around him see what could be done. You then wanted to get going and get it done. An example was that he and Sen. Hollings envisioned a cancer center at our school. Despite a lot of obstacles, they got it done. There are many more examples. He was a master at making fun of himself and using that again to get things done. His vision was transformative in the history of our school. He started what I have called the era of great progress. His capacity to inspire philanthropic gifts was exceptional. We would not be where we are today as an institution without Jim Edwards leadership and vision.

Lisa Montgomery, MUSC's executive vice president of finance and operations

Edwards' gift was for making others feel special. He was very vivacious and very positive and very upbeat. What I recall the most is Dr. Edwards frequently shared his vision for MUSC, which is for us to become a world class institution. Through his leadership and those who followed, I believe his vision has been fulfilled.

Lawrence C. Mohr, M.D., professor of medicine, biometry and epidemiology

I was lucky enough to know Jim Edwards for many years.  He was one of the most remarkable individuals I have ever known.  His life was one of high achievement, service to humankind, devotion to the people of South Carolina and dedication to the nation.  However, to those of us who knew him as a friend, it was Jim's character and personal qualities that we cherish and remember the most.  Integrity, sincerity, warmth, concern for others, love of family, an ever positive attitude, personal humility and his wonderful sense of humor were the defining characteristics of his life, his friendships and his success. Jim knew instinctively that true leadership was about motivating the human spirit in ways that enabled ordinary people to accomplish more than they ever thought possible.  He knew that making a difference was a human endeavor which involved bringing people together in a way that allowed them to achieve more collectively than any one person could accomplish alone. 

During Jim's tenure as MUSC president a number of new buildings were built.  However, Jim would give us constant reminders that new buildings were only as good as the people who occupy them.  The people who comprised his MUSC family were always Jim's main concern.  I was blessed to be one of them.  Jim's selfless devotion to others was the foundation of his extraordinary success in government and the remarkable transformation of MUSC that occurred during his presidency.  In this regard, Jim Edwards leaves a legacy of service and accomplishment that is achieved by very few.  However, if you really want to understand Jim's legacy, simply look around you - it is everywhere.

Dr. John J. Sanders, DDS, dean of the College of Dental Medicine

Dr. Edwards truly led by example.  He advocated that health care professionals be involved beyond their profession.  Involvement in the community, education, public policy, advocacy, and yes, politics, were important in making this a better world.  Dr. Edwards brought out the best in all he met.  He united people of different persuasions to accomplish common goals.  He was larger than life and will always remain that way in my memories. I and all who knew him will truly miss him.

Mark Lyles, M.D., chief strategic officer for the Medical University Hospital Authority

I first got to know Dr. Edwards when I led MUSC’s Student Government Association in 1992. Dr. Edwards was an incredible mentor to me and he played an instrumental role in educating me about the business and political sides of academic medicine. He was an affable and approachable leader who always made anyone he was talking with feel special and important.  Dr. Edwards will be remembered fondly by all.

Joseph C. Good, retired general counsel for MUSC

I had the honor of working for Dr. Edwards for over fifteen years.  I found Dr. Edwards to be the perfect gentleman and role model. Dr. Edwards’ personality never changed as he was the same person in private as he was in public.  He had true respect for everyone and this was returned by everyone he met.  MUSC chose the right leader to put MUSC on the map.  As an additional bargain, MUSC got the support and leadership of Ann Edwards, whose behind-the-scenes activities made the Edwards an unbeatable team.  I mourn the loss of a true friend and mentor, but I will be eternally grateful for the positive influence he and Ann had on our community, MUSC, and on my life.

Helen Adams of Public Relations also contributed to this story.



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Resources >>

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James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine

MUSC News Center archives


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