Tall man took on tall tasks.
Hugh Edwards embraced his new home of Renfrew after moving here more than 55 years ago.
Hugh Edwards wasn’t a Renfrewite, but you wouldn’t have known it. He came here as a teenager and stayed for more than 55 years.
The Port Arthur, Ont., native fell in love with Renfrew and went on to become a mover-and-shaker in the town where he helped the Renfrew Citizens Recreation Commission, Times Fiber (Amphenol), the Renfrew Lions Club and the Renfrew Minor Hockey Association support important projects in town.
Last Friday, Edwards died to end a 21-year battle with Parkinson’s. He would have turned 75 on Jan. 20, 2013.
A tall man, at 6-foot-5, he stood out in a crowd. But even in later years, stooped over with a bad back, his presence was still strongly felt, with his steady voice of conviction.
“He was a big man in lots of ways,” says Reeve Audrey Green, who was mayor back in the 1980s when Edwards was busy working on one project or another.
“If it had been a hundred years earlier, he would have been one of the forefathers of Renfrew. He made Renfrew a better place in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s.
“He could multi-task. He could have four things going, but when he said get it done by Thursday, you’d get it done by Thursday. He just had that way with him. Maybe it was because he was so big. And, when he had an idea, come hell or high water, you put it into effect.”
His son Terry agrees. “He absolutely got the job done. He was exceptionally well-organized.”
Organized enough that many projects had happy endings, but none bigger than Ma-Te-Way Park, which officially opened Sept. 13, 1979.
The 147-acre park became home to the new ice rink, and to several other facilities, for softball, baseball, football, tobogganing, hiking and soccer. Edwards is also a member of the recreation department’s Renfrew Wall of Fame after he, Barry Belanger and Dave Jamieson helped find funds to support a facility the Town of Renfrew said it couldn’t afford.
“He always felt Renfrew adopted him,” says Terry. “He felt very, very strongly that Renfrew provided so much to him that he wanted to give back to the town.”
Edwards wondered if his many commitments to town projects came at the expense of his family, but there was certainly no social cavity at the Edwards’ household.
There have been few Saturdays when someone wasn’t parked in front of the home of Hugh and Joan Edwards, perhaps for a game of euchre, or for other gatherings, like the times Terry and his Queen’s University football teammates detoured by bus from Ottawa games for a gathering at the Edwards’ home.
One of Edwards’ biggest contributions to town was the work spearheaded by himself and Jim New to resurrect the Renfrew Santa Claus Parade.
The parade died in the 1950s, but returned in 1975 when Edwards began his one-year term as Lions Club president. The event remains a fixture, with its 38th straight Renfrew Lions Club Parade held this year.
“He was an incredible person for details and working things out,” says veteran Lions Club member Doug Headrick, recalling how Edwards would have a dozen pages of details itemized for the annual parade.
“He was the type of person that a club would dream for. He was so dedicated and committed, and he was there if a job needed to be done.”
Past Renfrew mayor Sandi Heins, who spoke at Edwards’ funeral, referred to him as a brilliant and respected member of the community. She also called him a dreamer and a doer who saw plans through to the end.
Edwards is survived by his wife Joan, sons Terry, Roger, Scott and Chris, siblings Diane, Eunice, Richard and David, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. His funeral service was held Tuesday, Dec. 11 at Trinity-St. Andrew’s United Church in Renfrew.