Bob Edwards: The Man Who Will Be Mayor


Thank Bob Edwards the next time you slam on your brakes.

The once-General Motors engineer served on the team that developed the anti-lock brake, and though its contribution to automotive progress was substantial, the lessons -- cooperation and order -- formed the leadership skills of Payson's mayor-to-be.

"Just the mere fact that you see business in operation," said Edwards, who swept the mayoral race with 3,099 votes. "Engineer training tends to quickly identify a problem."

Edwards grew up on Michigan's upper peninsula, in the town of Newberry.

The tourist industry calls Newberry -- population 4,800 --the moose capital of Michigan. In the winter, temperatures can drop to 0 degrees, but in the summer, the region and its landmark, Tahquamenon Falls, the second largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, attracts nature-lovers from around the globe.

"Newberry was a great place to grow up," said Edwards. "My parents were much older. They were pillars."

By the time Edwards was born, his father, then 57, had already reared a family and had accumulated a lifetime of experience.

"My dad instilled a code that when I get outside that code, I get uncomfortable," he said.

By the age of 12, Edwards took his first job at the family store, Edwards Feed and Grocery. At 13, he learned to drive, and by 16 he had it mastered.


Bob Edwards

When Sheriff Hild asked the teenager to take the driving test, Edwards' half brother, a Detroit police officer, responded, "He drove to get here."

The driving never ended.

Following the analytical footsteps of his brothers, both engineers, Edwards climbed out of the driver's seat and under the hood in 1958.

That's when he embarked on a topnotch education at the General Motors Institute, now Kettering University, in Flint, Mich.

As his career progressed, Edwards morphed into a test-driving maven.

He often found himself across the frigid waters of Lake Superior, shivering somewhere on the frozen expanse of the Midwest.

"We used to go from Michigan to Minnesota to cold-test cars," he said.

And, of course, for his personal motoring needs, nothing but a Buick would do.

"They imbedded it in my head," he said.

In 1971, Edwards quit the car business. He served as an elected official until 1976 and then commenced a career in real estate.

Edwards found love in the mid-1990s when he met his wife, Ginger, at a political function in Lansing, Mich.

"Ginger happened to be sitting there, and the rest is history," he said.

Ginger also introduced Edwards, who retired in 1997, to Arizona.

"My in-laws were out here," he said. "They were having health problems. Ginger's mother brought her out here.

"The Valley was not attractive. I love to go down to the desert, but not for long."

And then the couple found the Rim Country. Edwards said it reminded him of the small town he loved as a child, but Payson's shine soon tarnished.

"I thought I was coming up to the same type of town I grew up in," Edwards said. "I identified some things in town that didn't feel right. I want to live here for the rest of my life."

For anyone following the election of the past seven months, Edwards' race to the mayor's seat is a well-documented anthology of small-town politics.

But take away his soapbox, and there's another man.

Edwards and his two brothers travel to Mexico each year. There, they contribute to a local mission and build houses for the local residents.

"It's fun," Edwards said. "Actually you take a whole lot more out of it than you put in. If people get involved in that kind of thing, it gives your life meaning and it's so easy to do."

On June 8, Edwards takes the mayor's seat on the council. Until then, he'll continue to refine his goals and reach out to the residents of Payson.

"We had to understand the emotions," he said. "People were at the point where they wanted a change so badly."

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