Today, I had to say goodbye to my biggest fan - Joseph Lee Edwards, Jr (also known as De De Edwards). De De was born on March 4th, 1930, and he passed away on November 30th, 2018. We held his funeral today in Smithfield. Virginia, and laid to rest at Central Hill, about a mile from Isle of Wight Courthouse where he grew up. Here are my thoughts about him.
Family, Respect, Hard Work, Leader, Devoted, Loyal, Handsome, Always Happy- these are words that come to mind when I think about DeDe Edwards, my father.
Here are 5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT DE DE.
He was a Devoted Family Man- Anyone who met DeDe couldn’t deny he loved his high school sweetheart, Carolyn Virginia Seward. He also was a great father, and grandfather, to us. DeDe knew it was important to show up for the ordinary, everyday moments-- he never missed any of our ball games, home or away, and he made most of his grandchildren’s ball games too. We appreciate all he did for us growing up and all through his entire life—he truly modeled what it means to lead a family.
DeDe was respected by Many- DeDe respected the people that worked for him at Smithfield Packing- you may not have always agreed with him, but I noticed how people ALWAYS spoke to him when walking through the plant- “Yes sir, Mr. Edwards, yes sir….”, You could tell there was affection by those at his work, and also by those that lived in his mobile village that he built next to his home.
DeDe was a leader and loyal to his friends and co-workers. He expected a lot of people at work and he believed in doing things a certain way- the RIGHT WAY. Sometimes when DeDe encountered those know who didn’t quite have the same passion for doing it “right,” he would let them know about it, in a second. He didn’t particularly like it much when someone didn’t give 100%- all the time, and his care and authenticity allowed him to earn respect from those that disagreed with him.
A Proud man- he was proud of his family. (He WAS my biggest fan).
While DeDe was proud of his work, he was mostly proud of his family. When he first came down with the symptoms of dementia, he was in the middle of writing a book. A book about the way things were for his family growing up during the depression- how after his father was killed when he was only 2 years old, how his mother and his 7 siblings dealt with adversity and life in the 1930’s.. I remember hearing the story about his mother, Ada Belle, a 4’8” tall mother taking DeDe down to the Courthouse when he was little, to give hell to the County Administrators. He shared how all four of his brothers were drafted to fight in World War II - leaving DeDe behind with his 3 sisters to be make ends meet…There are many more stories worth hearing. We’re going to finish that book for him.
DeDe was also proud of his 48 year career at Smithfield Packing Company. He worked his way up to be a master sausage maker under Joe Luter, a plant superintendent, , and a Plant Manager for his last 18 years in Norfolk. Dad once told me, “You know we made money for the Company all 18 of those years”. He was proud of that.
All of those stories remind me of DeDe’s affinity for TALKING. DeDe loved to talk, and I think that was his way of forging connections with those he encountered. He could tell a story, and I loved hearing about how times were back in his childhood. I remember hearing about how Uncle George would send money home to help out Grandma and his siblings during the war. How tough things were in the ‘30’s and early ‘40’s. DeDe would work at the Joyner’s General Store as a kid, and even shined shoes on Main Street after school. He’d hide his shoe shining wooden box in the bushes next to where the Twin’s restaurant used to be and the Bakery is today. He’d then walk all the way home to the Courthouse and then down that long, dark road to his home in Orbit. He would tell me how his teachers were sweet on him, and how this one liked him and would give him good grades (all the while telling the story with a wink and a smile). I heard about the dances he would attend and how all the girls would want to dance with him. Then he met Carolyn at the Burwell's Bay pier- and that was it. From the first time he met her, he knew she was the one. Just looking at those pictures from 1947, you can feel the love they had and still do for each other.
A Giving Man- DeDe would give you the shirt off his back. DeDe gave to those in need. He would often slip a $20 bill (“cash money” as he called it, to them, even when he really couldn’t afford to do so) but more importantly- DeDe gave his time. He gave to his church, he gave to his friends and relatives. If you needed something, DeDe was there to help. DeDe never missed an opportunity to visit friends who were sick, in the hospital, and go visit those near the end. He was always THERE for those in need.
Even in the final stages of his life- DeDe would be constantly wanting to get up, “We’d say, Daddy, where you going? He’d say- “I got work to do”…. What work do you need to do? “I need to do it the “right way”.
I told him yes, Daddy, you’ve been doing things the RIGHT WAY your whole life. Thanks Daddy, for teaching us so many things by your actions, for showing us how to love, and how to live.
Your work lives on, and now it’s time to rest.
I want to thank Karen and Gess for taking Mom and Dad into their home a year ago, and taking such great care of them. I also want to thank all of the wonderful caregivers for making my father’s last days a warm and loving environment. I want to thank my mother, for her courage and unwavering support for DeDe, especially in the past few years. Although she couldn’t move around and do the physical part of taking care of the mobile home park, she took care of the business side of things for DeDe. She’s an amazing woman and she’s DeDe’s sweetheart. Their love for one another was very special and one to admire. What a great love affair for over 70 years dating back to their high school romance.