Edwards dies at 84
Published 1:23 am Sunday, August 21, 2011
Former state Rep. Zeno Edwards Jr., D-Beaufort County, died Saturday at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville.
Edwards was 84 years old.
The Washington resident served four terms in the N.C. House, beginning his legislative career as a Republican in 1993.
Edwards, a retired dentist, switched parties and was re-elected as a Democrat, serving until he chose to step down on his own terms.
He left the House in 2002.
Edwards was known for his brisk, off-the-cuff speaking style as much as his loud, plaid pants and sport jackets and seemingly ever-present cigars.
He was quick to call out an opponent with whom he disagreed, and he remained outspoken on matters political until the end of his life.
One of Edwards’ last public-service acts was his attendance at a local hearing on legislative redistricting in May.
During that hearing, he joined another speaker in opposing the division of Beaufort County between multiple state House or Senate districts.
State Rep. Edith Warren, D-Pitt, served with Edwards during his tenure.
“He will certainly be greatly missed,” the Farmville legislator said. “He served the district so very well, and we depended on him in regards to health issues a great deal. And we’ll certainly miss his smile and his outgoing manner and his wonderful personality. And he worked very hard and cared very much about North Carolina and the institution of the General Assembly.”
Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, also served alongside Edwards in the House.
“He was someone you certainly always knew where he stood,” the Elizabeth City lawmaker said. “He told it like it was, whether you liked it or didn’t like it. He always said it the way he felt.”
Owens knew Edwards as a Republican and a Democrat.
“I liked him both times,” he said.
Owens also referred to Edwards’ trademark humor.
“He would keep it free and easy,” he explained. “I think that was a certain trait of his to make him feel comfortable before he explained the serious thing.”
Judy Jennette is a former Washington mayor who dealt with Edwards on local issues.
“Zeno was committed to his community and worked hard while he was in the Legislature for the people he represented,” Jennette said. “I admired his spirit. After he had had to deal with cancer, I was just always amazed at how he always remained active and out in the community doing things.”
Sympathetic words came from one of Edwards’ old political opponents, onetime state Rep. Sandy Hardy, R-Beaufort County.
“Beaufort County will truly miss one of its most well-known personalities,” Hardy said. “It’s sad news. My sympathies go to the Edwards family.”
Surry Everett, chairman of the Beaufort County Democratic Party, spoke as a friend.
“Zeno was a good friend, and I will always remember him,” Everett stated.
Russell Woolard is a former news editor of the Washington Daily News.
Though he has lived and worked in the Washington, D.C., area for years, Woolard well remembers Edwards, whom he covered as a Daily News political reporter.
To Woolard, Edwards represents a disappearing generation of local leaders who had tremendous influence on their communities.
“They weren’t perfect, but I think we’re going to miss the leaders of Dr. Edwards’ generation more than we may realize — although I’m not sure the conditions they worked in can be replicated now,” he said. “When people like Zeno Edwards, (Sens.) Ed Warren, Ashley Futrell, (Rep.) Howard Chapin, and others were in office and at the peak of their influence, governing was simpler. Beaufort County was more homogenous. People generally agreed on what they wanted, how they should go about getting it, and what local and state government should do to help. So, the people who led Beaufort County through the mid to late 20th century were pragmatic folks. Their priority wasn’t scorched-earth ideological battles; it was making government do the greatest good for the greatest number of people. … That’s something worth remembering, especially in the polarized atmosphere we have today.”
Edwards is survived by a large family, including his son Seth Edwards, district attorney in the 2nd Prosecutorial District.
A celebration of his life is planned for Tuesday in Washington.