One of the great traditions of the Idaho Legislature is the day they set aside each session to memorialize former members who passed away during the previous year. With the relatively high turnover of members, most of those who are memorialized are unknown to the current members. But it is a time for the departed former members to have one last day in the legislative sun. Families of those being memorialized are invited to sit in the visitors’ gallery while one of the current members recalls the years of service and accomplishments of the former member.
And, in those instances where the legislator doing the memorial actually knew the deceased, there are anecdotes, often humorous, about the individual.
I have always felt it unfortunate that once a person leaves the Legislature they are usually so quickly forgotten. But, with the exception of the highest ranking elected officials, such as governors and U.S. senators, once you leave office, all of the effort you made and your occasional accomplishments, no matter how significant, are forgotten. Well, the accomplishments may well be remembered, but not the fact that you were responsible for them. The same is even more true with elected local officials with cities, counties and school districts.
All of this brings to mind the passing, forty years ago this week, of one of Idaho’s most dedicated public officials, Edward V. Williams. For many who recall the name, it will most likely be associated with the Edward V. Williams Conference Center at Lewis Clark State College. For those who don’t recall Ed and his many years of dedicated service to the people of Lewiston and the state of Idaho, let me take this opportunity to bring him back, even if briefly, into the public spotlight.
I first met Ed Williams in April 1960. I was a seventeen year old junior at Clarkston High School and had received my parents’ approval to join the Idaho National Guard. Ed Williams, or Captain Ed, as he was known in the Guard, was battery commander of Headquarters Battery of the 148th Field Artillery. The night I joined the National Guard, he administered the oath. It was the beginning of a great friendship.
Ed was also an educator with the Lewiston School District and was extremely dedicated to his profession. Between his activities with students, teachers and administrators, and his service with the National Guard, he was a well-known and highly respected member of the community.
So much so that in 1963 he was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Ed was a popular legislator and was elected House Minority Leader by his Democratic colleagues. This is the same position that nearly fifty years later is now occupied by Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston.
Ed pushed the cause of education and also was a strong proponent of all things beneficial to his home district. It is no coincidence that, in his first year in the Legislature, legislation was approved making Lewis Clark Normal School an independent four-year college. Prior to that it had been operating for several years as a branch of the University of Idaho. He also became close friends with another area legislator, State Senator Cecil Andrus. When Andrus became governor in 1971, he tapped Ed to be his chief of staff. In 1972, Ed was the Democratic candidate for congress in Idaho’s first congressional district. He ran on a platform of
improving public education and government support for economic development. His opponent, Steve Symms, ran on a platform of “taking a bite out of government.” Symms won.
Ed then turned his efforts to working with a federally funded project to improve Idaho’s economy. As always, he had a great interest in making Idaho a better place for all of its citizens.
In mid-April 1973, I joined five friends on a spring backpacking trip through Hells Canyon. The group consisted of Jean and Sam Taylor, Darrell and Rochelle Manning, and Barbara Dodson, a recent University of Idaho graduate I had just begun dating and have now been married to for 38 years. Jean Taylor, Darrell Manning and I all had positions in the Andrus administration. When Ed Williams heard we were going to make that trip, he said that he and his cousin, Jack Bowman, would pick us up in a boat at Pittsburgh Landing, and take us 72 miles back to Lewiston. That was vintage Ed Williams, offering to take a 140 mile boat trip so we wouldn’t have to worry about shuttling vehicles between Hells Canyon Dam, where we began our trip, and Pittsburgh Landing, where it was to conclude.
The Snake was running extremely high when we boarded the boat. The boat swamped in the Imnaha Rapids and we were forced to abandon it. Both Ed Williams and Jack Bowman lost their lives.
Ed died doing what he did best – helping others. It’s been forty years since he passed away, but it is important to remind people that his isn’t just a name on a building on a college campus. His name is on that building because of the work he did to benefit the college, the citizens of Lewiston and all of Idaho. God bless you, Ed Williams.
Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.Share on Facebook