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Dr. James Edwards, 1927-2014

'My life dedicated to serving'

January 07, 2015

By Craig Palmer

Leader honored: Dr. James B. "Jim" Edwards accepts the Association's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Award, in 1994 from then-ADA President James H. Gaines.
Mount Pleasant, S.C
. – Dr. James B. "Jim" Edwards, a dentist who governed his state and served his country as a federal official, died at his Charleston County home at age 87.

"South Carolina lost a great man and true statesman on Friday December 26," said Dr. Hal Fair, ADA 16th District trustee. "He was an oral surgeon and longtime ADA member. A former governor of South Carolina, energy secretary under President Reagan, former president of the Medical University of South Carolina and the namesake for our new James B. Edwards Dental School at MUSC. He was a friend to all and will be greatly missed. There is no better ambassador and friend to dentistry than Dr. Jim Edwards. What an incredible legacy he leaves."

"Jim Edwards was the perfect gentleman in every respect," said Dr. W. Carter Brown, national president of the Academy of General Dentistry and past president of the South Carolina Dental Association. "He always smiled, he always seemed to have time to talk to you regardless of his schedule and he always made everyone feel like they were part of something special. He was always seeking the positive in everything and never worried about making himself look good. He was a true leader who was interested in the success of the group. His faith and inner integrity were evident in everything he did. Dr. Edwards represented the best of what makes South Carolina so special."

"It was a personal honor in 1994 to present Jim Edwards with the ADA's prestigious Distinguished Service Award," said Dr. James H. Gaines, ADA president 1993-94. "His accomplishments in so many fields made his selection for this honor an easy one. When called upon, he was always ready to be of assistance on issues and causes important to dentistry. When I would ask him on behalf of the SCDA or ADA to aid us with an issue or problem his response was always 'Sure, I'll take care of that' or 'Why don't you write that letter, send it to me and I will sign it.' That style was vintage Edwards, laid back, helpful and very effective.

"He enjoyed quipping that one in public office quickly drops from Who's Who to who's he? When he completed his term as governor, his intention was to return to his oral surgery practice in Charleston," Dr. Gaines said. "That was short lived because newly elected President Ronald Reagan tapped him to be in his Cabinet. As Secretary of Energy he enjoyed saying he was the only Cabinet member who had a license to drill. He never really became 'who's he.' After his Washington service he was named and served many fruitful years as president of the Medical University of South Carolina.

"Dentistry and the political arena could certainly use more fine people like Jim Edwards."

"Dr. Edwards truly led by example," said Dr. John Sanders, professor and dean of the James B. Edwards College of Dental Medicine. "He advocated that health care professionals be involved beyond their profession, that involvement in the community, education, public policy, advocacy and, yes, politics was 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 remain that way in my memories. I and all who knew him will truly miss him."   

Dr. Edwards cited his dental, military and political service as he testified at a 1981 U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for the Reagan administration Cabinet post and said, "My life has been dedicated to serving my country, my neighbors and my friends."

Dr. Edwards received his D.M.D. degree from the University of Louisville in 1955. After post-graduate study at the University of Pennsylvania and a two-year residency in oral surgery, he opened a dental practice in Mount Pleasant in 1960.