Charles Edwards is a world traveler and keen observer of the human condition wherever he is. One glance at the dozens and dozens of research papers that fill Dr. Edwards’ curriculum vitae is to understand that his professional life has been filled with cutting-edge scholarship and collaboration with a host of international scientists, but even a brief conversation with him will make it equally plain that he is a modest, gracious, and enthusiastic raconteur, comfortable talking about history, politics, art, and music, effortlessly pulling up pertinent names, dates, and facts.
Dr. Charles Edwards grew up in Hyattsville, Maryland, the youngest of three children. His father was a grocer whose early death propelled his mother into the workplace. Charles was drawn to mathematics at an early age, and began his education at The Johns Hopkins University studying engineering, but ended up majoring in biophysics. His undergraduate degree from Hopkins would be the first of three degrees he would earn from that institution; he received his Ph.D. there in 1953. While at Hopkins, he met his wife Lois, then a student at Baltimore’s Goucher College. As Dr. Edwards remembers it, he saw a friend “talking to a pretty girl” at a lacrosse game. When he walked over and asked her her name, she refused to tell him, but their romance would blossom when he was hospitalized with tuberculosis and Lois became a faithful visitor, traveling by streetcar “to the end of the line” to encourage his speedy recovery.
An opportunity to do post-graduate research in London provided the introduction to what would become a lifelong love of British and European art, and would be the first of many times the couple would cross the world’s oceans and become familiar with many foreign lands, including Japan, Sweden, Mexico, England, and Czechoslovakia. The first of their four children was born while they were living in London.
Following London, the Edwards family returned to Baltimore, where Charles continued to do research at Hopkins. The family moved to Utah for two years, and then to Minnesota, where Dr. Edwards taught physiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School for seven years. He then moved to the Department of Biological Sciences at the State University of New York at Albany, where he taught undergraduates and supervised laboratory research for 17 years. From Albany Dr. Edwards worked for several years at the National Institutes of Health before wrapping up his career in academia as Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Affairs in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida. He retired from USF in 1989.
It was in 1980, while he was at SUNY-Albany, when Dr. Edwards decided to work at the Institute of Physiology in Prague under the United States’ National Academy of Sciences-Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences exchange program. Dr. Edwards recalls his time in Communist-controlled Prague and the people he met there with great fondness, though he characterizes the country as “very isolated” in the pre-Velvet Revolution years. He recalls how the Communist Party exercised very tight control over the professional lives of his fellow researchers: for those not members of the Party, a successful academic career was difficult. International travel to the West was not easy for Party members; for non-Party members, it was nearly impossible. As one Czech friend put it: “We live in a golden cage.” In addition to his colleagues, both he and Lois got to know a number of young Czechs, who were eager to work on their English. The Edwardses enjoyed art, concerts, and traveling through the country in a French-built and licensed car, which he characterizes as a “magnet” for the police.
Dr. Edwards vividly remembers the building and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, and notes that it was television that made the demise of Soviet-controlled countries inevitable, since the East Germans could see for themselves via the (banned) West German and Austrian television that life in the West was not at all the bleak existence portrayed by their government.
Dr. and Mrs. Edwards first learned of Plymouth Harbor when friends moved in. They had commuted back and forth between Sarasota and New York City for many years, but the burden of looking after a house became too much for them, and they moved into Plymouth Harbor in 2005. Dr. Edwards sees living in Plymouth Harbor as a “gift” to both their children and to themselves because “life is very convenient here.” He lists the services and amenities with obvious pleasure: first class dining, fitness classes, trips to concerts and theaters, programs featuring local leaders, concerts, and the regular showings of popular movies. Plymouth Harbor, he says, is full of “remarkable people.” The Edwardses have been active members of the Plymouth Harbor community, serving on many committees, including the Health, Dining, Civic Affairs, Housekeeping, and Hospitality committees. Dr. Edwards also leads the Low Vision Support Group.
Following the pattern of their lives, Dr. and Mrs. Edwards continue to be engaged with young people. Both volunteer regularly—she, helping second graders at Booker Elementary with their reading, and he, for the past 15 years, teaching science to fifth graders at Gulf Gate Elementary. He has brought strategy games into the classroom, hoping to excite the young people about math. “Math means thinking,” he says firmly. Not a surprising attitude from a man who admits, with a twinkle in his eye, that he still adds up the digits on license plates. Dr. Edwards has also been a positive force for the health of Sarasota’s environment. In 2012 he was the recipient of the Blue Dolphin Award in recognition of his contribution to the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Sarasota Bay Estuary Program.
In May of this year Dr. and Mrs. Edwards, with their son and daughter-in-law, returned to the Czech Republic, where Dr. Edwards was awarded the Laufberger Medal from the Czech Physiological Society, “in recognition of his scientific excellence and contribution to the enhancement of international scientific collaboration.” Dr. Edwards found the contrast between life in the former Czechoslovakia and the new Czech Republic easy to see and hear. Nowadays, he says, Prague is “full of Americans, everyone speaks English, and the streets are full of foreign made cars.” A Soviet-made tank, which had been painted pink during the Velvet Revolution, has disappeared.
The medal ceremony, which marked the 50th anniversary of the Institute, where he had worked, was very memorable for Dr. Edwards: “There was one hour, twenty-nine minutes of people speaking Czech, and exactly one minute of English,” he laughs. “That minute was when they were speaking about me.”