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June 2014

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Ray Edwards

The officers regret to report that former 11th District International Vice President Ray Edwards died on May 3. He was 83.

Brother Edwards was born and raised on his parents' farm in Hartville, Mo., a small town in rural southern Missouri. He became an apprentice soon after graduating from Hartville High School and was initiated into Kansas City, Mo., Local 53 in 1954 as a journey lineman. Two years later, he took a job with Springfield City Utilities and transferred to Springfield Local 453.

"I think he was the best organizer the IBEW ever had," said former International Secretary Jack Moore. "It was his level-headedness. He never went in half-cocked, but when he put his heart into it, he gave it completely with everything he had."

Moore ran for business manager in 1956, and only two years after Edwards joined Local 453, Moore included him on his slate. When they won, Edwards became the local's vice president, starting a working relationship between the two that would last nearly 40 years in some of the most important and powerful offices in the IBEW.

He sat on the Springfield Labor Council and the Springfield Building and Construction Trades Council. In 1959 he was appointed the steward for City Utility.

"I appointed him, but it was his peers that really chose him," Moore said.

In 1961, Moore brought Edwards on staff as assistant business manager. Within a year, they had negotiated the first health and welfare benefits for construction members. But Moore says Edwards' greatest accomplishments were expanding manufacturing, adding Zenith's more than 3,000 members and Lilly Cup's 1,200. By 1972, Local 453 had grown from about 300 members to more than 6,000.

"There were 11 elections at Lilly Cup. We were the eleventh. All of them failed until we won, and by a fair margin," Moore said. "He organized everything that was loose."

In 1968, Edwards was appointed an international representative and assigned to the 11th District, where he took charge of organizing campaigns across Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas and Nebraska.

"He was tenacious and he was honest and those are the two most important things in organizing," said former 11th district International Representative Craig Hoepner, now retired. "He never promised what he couldn't deliver, when he said something, that was how it would be."

Hoepner said Edwards' tenacity was legendary. In 1976, nearly 1,000 members at Lilly Cup went out on strike. Negotiations stalled, and the walkout dragged on for weeks. Moore had just been appointed 11th District International Vice President and he made Edwards his administrative assistant. Hoepner was a new international representative overseeing the unit.

"He asked me what it would take to end the strike, and I told him they were hurting and if we could get, I think it was 10 cents an hour more, we could settle it," Hoepner said. "Well he comes back and says there's a problem."

Federal mediators had ordered the two sides not to negotiate, to put their final offers on the table.

"But instead of asking for the dime, he asked for 15 cents and was now worried they would find out that we would've settled for 10," Hoepner said. "He said, 'I couldn't just ask for 10.' He couldn't help but run the rabbit and see what happened."

In 1985, when Moore was appointed International Secretary, Edwards was appointed 11th District International Vice President, a position he held until he retired in 1998.

"If you were straight with him, did a full day's work, he might lean on you from time to time, but he never let you swing," Hoepner said. "He thought everyone deserved to have a union, they deserved that choice. That's what mattered to him."

After nearly 44 years serving his brothers and sisters in the IBEW, Edwards returned to his first loves: hunting and fishing.

Edwards was followed into the IBEW by his sons Charles and Gale, both now retired after long careers, Charles out of Local 453, and Gale out of Springfield Local 753.

Brother Edwards is survived by his sons, daughter Twana, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

The IBEW's officers, staff and members send our most heartfelt condolences to Brother Edwards' family and many friends.


Ray Edwards