Thank you R.C. Edwards

R.C. Edwards sees Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney off before the Tigers game with South Carolina one last time.

R.C. Edwards sees Clemson football coach Dabo Sweeney off before the Tigers game with South Carolina one last time.

Dr. R.C. Edwards passed away on Thursday at the age of 94. He’ll be missed.

Anyone who has a degree from Clemson University, as I do, owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Edwards.

As an editor for Clemson’s student newspaper, I was lucky enough to meet a few people in my time at the school that most students wouldn’t without a little extra effort.

Among those, my two favorites were easily former sports information director Bob Bradley, God bless him, and former University president R.C. Edwards. And though I spent a year as news editor, I met Edwards during my time as sports editor. There may have been no bigger Clemson sports fan than Dr. Edwards.

As a student, I was admittedly unaware of just how much Edwards meant to Clemson. What I knew was he had been president for a long time (21 years) and was quite popular.

And just by watching how those with influence at Clemson acted around him, it was clear how much respect he garnered.

When you understand what he did for the school, it makes sense.

“Except for Thomas Green Clemson himself, the founder of the university, Bob Edwards was the single most important person in the history of the school,” Donald McKale, Clemson’s Class of 1941 Memorial Professor of History, and my professor for a summer school World War II in Europe class, told the Greenville News.

He entered the school as a 15-year-old freshman, graduated in 1933 with a B.S. in Textile Engineering, returned to the school in 1956 as a vice president and became president in 1958.

He retired in 1979. Those 21 years were quite eventful in American history, and it was no different at Clemson. Edwards was president through three major turning points in Clemson history.

Edwards oversaw the transformation of the University from an all-male military academy to a co-ed university.

He took on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the early 1950s when they initially wanted to flood 9,000 acres of Clemson’s campus and force the school to move in order to construct the Hartwell resevoir. Not  only did Edwards win, but he convinced the Corps to actually re-route the Seneca River in the process.

And possibly the most impressive feat … Edwards facilitated the peaceful, if not downright uneventful, integration of Clemson University in 1963 at a time when it certainly wasn’t the norm (Just prior to Harvey Gantt’s enrollment at Clemson, James Meredith’s enrollment at the University of Mississippi at Oxford in the fall of 1962 had forced the use of federal troops to quell violence).

According to the book, “Tradition: A History of the Presidency of Clemson University,” Edwards and Gantt both showed admiration for the way the other handled himself during the process.

Of Gantt, Edwards said: “If Harvey Gantt had not been the great person that he was and is, the situation at Clemson would have been a lot different.”

When Edwards retired in 1979, Gantt returned the compliment, telling the press, “President Edwards was very fair to me. He seemed to be singularly interested in making sure the change was peaceful.”

By the time Edwards retired, he had personally handed out more than 70 percent of the diplomas given at that point in the history of Clemson University.

When Edwards retired he didn’t go away. He was always around and  approachable, even to a student who didn’t enroll until more than a decade after he had left office.

Here’s the statement on Edwards from current Clemson president James Barker:

R.C. Edwards was a giant in the history of Clemson University. No president will ever surpass his dedicated service to his alma mater nor his impact on all aspects of life at Clemson. Dr. Edwards was my President and he has always been a part of my Clemson experience, from the day I first walked onto campus to today.  When he shook my hand at graduation in 1970, it was one of the proudest days of my life. I still stand in awe of all that he accomplished as president. He led Clemson through the transition from a small, all-male military college to a major co-educational, integrated university. He presided over an era of enormous, much-needed change with strong, steady and visionary leadership. He will always be remembered.

Edwards did what was best for the University, even if it wasn’t the most popular option, and he could do so because no one could question his love of Clemson.

Many people graduate from college, and as time passes, the school they attended becomes just that, where they went to school. But many who leave Clemson never get over the feeling that there is something special in those hills and about the family they are forever a part of. And for that, we owe a lot to Dr. Robert C. Edwards.

Thank you R.C. Edwards, you’ll be missed.

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