The John Whitmer Historical Association lost one of its giants October 13 when Paul M. Edwards died. He and Alma Blair, his associate for many years in the History Department at Graceland College, were the only two members among the founders of JWHA to be elected President of the Association two times.
Prior to the organizational meeting held at the home of Richard and Barbara Howard in September 1972, Edwards, Blair, Richard Howard, and Barbara Higdon were anxious to create an organization that would promote independent study of church history, free of influence from church leaders. To illustrate, RLDS Church Historian Dick Howard refused to be president of the association during the first decade of its existence because he feared that an early presidency by the church historian might be thought by outsiders, including church administrators, that the organization was in some sense “official.”
These four individuals were probably the primary movers and shakers behind the founding of the Whitmer organization.
Edwards was a graduate of William Chrisman High School in Independence, Missouri, in 1950. He attended Graceland and then the University of Kansas City. He withdrew, however, and enlisted in the U.S. Army and fought in the Korean War. His experience of being in a foxhole, a frightened young man, was the defining event of Paul’s life. He realized he was there because his adolescent rebellion kept him from staying in school. He later told his students at Graceland that the movies we see about the war aren’t true war. In one of his resumes after he was honorably discharged from the Army, he listed an item in his previous work as “Assassin for the U.S. Army.” After the war he completed his B.A. degree in history from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, his master’s degree in history and philosophy from the University of South Dakota, and his Ph.D. from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
In 1960 Paul joined the history faculty at Graceland College, and over the next 22 years at various times he served as chair of the Social Science Division and Vice President for Academic Affairs.
Upon retirement, he started The Center for the Study of the Korean War. The artifact collection is now housed at the Harry S. Truman Library in Independence, Missouri. Paul and his son Gregg maintain a small office west of the Independence Square where they receive information, documents, and artifacts and vet them for inclusion in the Truman Library collection. In recent years as Paul’s health declined, his son Gregg drove him to and from their office as well as to Whitmer meetings and other commitments.
Paul authored 27 articles, book reviews, and letters in the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal as well as other articles elsewhere. His humor came through not only in his articles, but often also in the titles he gave them. He wrote a lot about his parents. F. Henry Edwards was a powerful, influential leader in the RLDS church and an institutional man. His mother, Alice Smith Edwards, was an iconoclast. One of Paul’s last articles was about his parents, entitled “Alice and Sir.”
Paul will be missed by all who knew and loved him. He was one of a kind.