William “Jack” Jackson Edwards III (1928-2019) served as a Republican representative from Alabama to the Congress from 1965 to 1985. He was among the first wave of Alabama Republicans, as the party gained traction after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He was an expert on national defense and supported the defense industry through his lobbying efforts.
Jack Edwards Edwards was born in Birmingham, Jefferson County, on September 20, 1928, to William Jackson and Sue (Fuhrman) Edwards. Edwards’s great-great grandfather William F. Aldrich was at that time Alabama’s most recent Republican congressman, having served from 1897 to 1901. Edwards received his early education from public schools and graduated from Shades Cahaba High School in Homewood in 1946. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in July 1946, attained the rank of corporal, and attended the United States Naval School (an academy and college preparatory school) in 1947 and 1948. He continued his military service as a sergeant from September 1950 to September 1951 during the Korean conflict. Following his military service, he attended the University of Alabama, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1952 and a law degree two years later. He was elected president of the Student Government Association, was selected for membership in Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities, and was a member of the U.S. Junior Chamber (Jaycees), Kappa Alpha Order social fraternity, and Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership honor society. In 1954, he taught business law at the University of Alabama in 1954 and also married Jolane Vander Sys, and the couple had two children.
That same year, Edwards was admitted to the Alabama State Bar, and the family relocated to Point Clear, Mobile County, where he practiced law until 1964. He was an active member of the Republican Party in Alabama when there was little support for it statewide. In addition to his law practice, Edwards was the general council for the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio Railroad from 1958 to 1964 and served on the Transportation Advisory Committee to the Mobile City Planning Commission from 1960 to 1963. The Alabama Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) named Edwards the Outstanding Local President for 1961-1962. He was named one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America by the U.S. Junior Chamber of Commerce in 1964.
In 1964, Edwards won the seat previously held by Frank Boykin in a complicated election resulting from Alabama’s loss of a House seat owing to redistricting. Edwards defeated the Democratic candidate, state senator John Tyson Sr., by a 19-point margin, benefiting from redistricting and pro-integration constituents who had switched to the Republican Party in response to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He later voted against the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the 1968 Civil Rights Act. He was one of five Republican winners of House seats for Alabama during presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s sweep of the state. Alabama’s First District—comprising Washington, Mobile, Baldwin, Escambia, and Monroe Counties and part of Clarke County—became strongly Republican, and Edwards was reelected nine times without serious opposition.
As a leading House Republican, Edwards worked alongside five presidents during his congressional career and met with presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Ronald Reagan weekly regarding matters of national defense funding. In 1970, he was a delegate to the Alabama Republican State Convention, and two years later was a delegate from Alabama to the Republican National Convention. He assisted in creating the weekly Gulf Coast Congressional Report, a public-service television broadcast on Mobile’s WKRG that provided constituents with a local view of Washington politics.
Edwards served many years on the Transportation subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee and was the ranking Republican on the Defense subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee, and served on the House Banking Committee. He supported President Reagan’s military buildup but as a fiscal conservative sought to cut ineffective programs from the Pentagon’s budget; for example, he strongly supported the MX missile program but was more skeptical of the B-1 bomber. He played a key role in convincing the Carter administration to provide the U.S. Marine Corps with a new class of landing ships and a new vertical-takeoff jet bomber. Edwards supported fellow Alabama representative Tom Bevill‘s efforts to improve the state’s waterways, especially the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway project. He was elected vice chairman of the Republican Party conference in 1979 and again in 1981. In 1980, Mobile College (now the University of Mobile) awarded him an honorary Doctor of Law degree.
Becoming frustrated with some of President Reagan’s Alabama judicial appointments and desiring more time with his family, Edwards did not seek reelection in 1984; he endorsed state senator Herbert “Sonny” Callahan, who had recently switched to the Republican Party. He returned to the law firm of Hand, Arendall LLC in Mobile but remained active in Republican politics, campaigning for Josiah “Jo” Bonner, who replaced Callahan and represented Alabama’s First Congressional District from 2003-13. Edwards became chairman of the Board of the Mobile Area Economic Development Council and served on the Mayor’s Waterfront Advisory Committee. In 1985, Edwards was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor and was awarded Mobilian of the Year for 1987.
Edwards served on the board of trustees of the University of Alabama System from 1988 to 1999 and was named President Pro Tem of the board before his retirement. He was appointed by President Reagan to the Board of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority in 1987, serving until 1996. In 1988, Edwards was co-chairman of the Defense Secretary’s Commission on Base Realignment and Closure, which was charged with determining which military bases in the United States should be closed or merged with other bases. He additionally served on the corporate boards of the Southern Company, Holnam Inc., Northrop Grumman Corporation, and QMS. He was registered as a foreign lobbyist for DGA International Inc. from 1988 to 1990, and for Hand, Arendall, Bedsole, Greaves, and Johnson in 1990. Later in his career, Edwards worked for Cummins Inc. and Ervin Hill Strategy, for whom he lobbied on behalf of more than 50 companies in the fields of aviation, medicine, and technology. Edwards died in Fairhope on September 27, 2019.
- Edwards, William Jackson. Papers: 1965-1984. The Doy Leale McCall Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of South Alabama, Mobile, Alabama.
- Ehrenhalt, Alan. Politics in America: Members of Congress in Washington and at Home. Washington D.C.: Congressional Quarterly, 1983.