Don Edwards (1905 - 2015)
Former US Representative Don Edwards of San Jose, California. Photo courtesy Wikipedia via United States Congress.
Former US Representative Don Edwards of San Jose, California, a champion of San Francisco Bay Area environmental conservationists, died October 1, 2015 in Carmel, California. He was 100.
One of Mr. Edwards' proudest achievements was the creation of the nation's first urban national wildlife refuge on the southern end of San Francisco Bay. He championed the mission of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge (CCCR), a volunteer organization dedicated to acquiring and restoring wetlands within the refuge. Working with Santa Clara County planner Arthur Ogilvie, he lobbied Congress to establish a refuge and stop the degradation of the Bay and its wetlands. The process took seven years and in 1972 legislation was finally passed to form the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
"Back then the bay was something to use -- for sewer outfalls, garbage dumps, anything you didn't want you put in the bay," said Florence LaRiviere, a longtime Palo Alto environmentalist who helped organize the CCCR in 1965. "He listened to us. Without Mr. Edwards, there would be development right up to the edge of the bay. All of the wonderful wildlife would be gone."
A decade later, LaRiviere and other area residents rallied to expand the refuge boundaries from 20,000 to 40,000 acres. Mr. Edwards once again ensured the passage of the bill in Congress. President Ronald Reagan signed that measure into law in 1988.
In 1995, Congress renamed the refuge in his honor. It became the "Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge" .
San Francisco Bay south of the San Mateo Bridge as photographed by crew of the NASA Space Shuttle NASA STS111-376-3 on June 17, 2002. The red and green colors of the salt ponds in South San Francisco Bay are brilliant visual markers for astronauts. Photo courtesy NASA.
Mr. Edwards' family said the permanent protection for the South Bay shoreline was something Edwards remained proud of, long after his retirement. "It's an open area for families to enjoy and for our environment to be saved that will last forever," Len Edwards said. "That to me is the most wonderful gift he could give."
William Donlon Edwards was born on January 6, 1915, in San Jose, CA, where he attended public schools and graduated from the San Jose High Academy. He then attended Stanford University, where he was a star on the golf team, winning a State medal for match play along with several amateur titles.
After graduating in 1936, Mr. Edwards earned his LL.B. at Stanford Law School. In 1940, Mr. Edwards was hired as a special agent by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When World War II broke out, he was activated from the Navy Reserve and served for 4 years as a naval intelligence officer and gunnery officer in the South Pacific, attaining the rank of lieutenant.
In the 1950s, Mr. Edwards founded the Valley Title Company and built it into one of the nation's leading title insurance companies.
In 1962, Mr. Edwards was elected to Congress. During his 32 years in the House of Representatives, he became known as "the Congressman from the Constitution," the leading congressional defender of civil liberties and chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.
In the 1960s, he helped guide landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation through Congress. In the 1970s, he led the efforts to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. A master consensus-builder, he helped forge large bipartisan majorities to pass the Voting Rights Act extension of 1982, Fair Housing Amendments of 1988, Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Civil Rights Act of 1991.
Congressman Don Edwards (D-California) during a session of the U.S. House of Representatives on September 7, 1988. Photo courtesy C-SPAN.
In 1994, Mr. Edwards retired from Congress. In 2003 Mr. Edwards received the Congressional Distinguished Service Award.
Mr. Edwards' first two marriages ended in divorce. In 1981, he married his longtime partner, Edith "Edie" Wilkie, director of Congress's Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus. She died in 2011.
In January 2015, Mr. Edwards celebrated his 100th birthday with chocolate cake and ice cream, and was in good spirits despite being nearly deaf and blind.
Mr. Edwards passed away just before 9 p.m. on October 1, 2015 at his home in Carmel, California. "He died peacefully and with a great deal of grace," his son, retired Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Leonard Edwards, said. "He died as he lived, an elegant man."
Mr. Edwards is survived by his sons, Leonard, Samuel, Bruce and Thomas, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“Don spent his life in service to the state of California and to our country as a Member of Congress for 32 years. His contributions will live on for many generations through the Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge, through his stalwart defense of the Constitution, his profound dedication to civil rights, his tireless advocacy for the rights of women as the 'Father of the Equal Rights Amendment,' and his lifelong efforts for a peaceful world. He will be always be remembered for his exemplary service in Congress and love for the South bay.” — U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose)
Don Edwards with U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). Photo courtesy Zoe Lofgren.