By Jonathan Lange, guest columnist
Roy Harlie Edwards, representative of House District 53, succumbed on November 2, after a brief illness. Wyomingites from all walks of life, and from all over the state, were saddened by the news. Condolences are extended to his wife, family and all who mourn his loss.
We also owe them our deepest gratitude for supporting Roy in his tireless work to make our little town with long streets into a better place. It is fitting that we mark Roy’s passing with reverence and gratitude. His life of service gave voice to the common man and served the entire state.
Roy was a true son of Wyoming. His ancestors homesteaded in the Gillette area and that is where he lived his entire life. Graduating from Gillette High School, he was blessed with a loving marriage and a faithful family. For three and a half decades he travelled from ranch to ranch for the Farmer’s Coop, servicing equipment. Then, he founded Edwards Tire Company and continued his passion for serving people.
His dedication to his wife and children led him out of the house and into the community. For Roy, that meant service in his church, first and foremost. Whether as deacon of Central Baptist Church or traveling across the world to distribute Christian printed material, he was always eager to tell people why he lived with such a big smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.
Roy’s faith in Jesus was not privatized. It led him into public service. For 12 years he served on the Gillette City Council. After that, he served 8 years on the Campbell County Commission. In 2014 he was elected to Wyoming’s House of Representatives. That is where I came to know him. I first admired him from afar. More recently, I came to know him as a friend.
One might think that 34 years in public office would make a consummate politician out of any man. But Roy’s warm smile and firm handshake were not an act. He could talk to anybody—and often went out of his way to do so—but he never spoke a disingenuous word.
Roy’s success was not a function of following the crowd. Rather, his brand of politics was to speak boldly and create a following. For this reason, he was often dismissed as a hayseed simpleton. Those who made this mistake not only missed out on his friendship and wit, they also missed out on his profound wisdom.
A master of working behind the scenes, Roy built coalitions, persuaded people on the fence and encouraged colleagues to take the lead. Hardly anybody knew how hard he worked or how sharply he could perceive any situation. But for those who did, he was the epitome of humble and unassuming leadership.
Even in death his humble leadership is still being felt. As the Republicans of the House of Representatives meet in caucus next Saturday, they will be voting on the last project of Roy Edwards. During the final months of his life, he was the driving force that assembled one of the slates of house leadership that House Republicans will have the option to choose because of his forethought and leadership.
Of course, leadership without a vision does little good. At the heart of Roy’s vision was a passion for individual liberty. He had a deep understanding of how easily true freedom is mistaken for mere individualism. He could also see more keenly than most the connection between true human freedom and fiscal policy. The more that individuals control their own spending, the more communities thrive.
Roy’s colleagues tell me that he was consistently one of the most nay-saying legislators in Cheyenne. He voted against far more legislation than he supported. But that does not mean he wanted government to do nothing.
During his time in Cheyenne, Roy was the lead sponsor of 14 bills. Three of these, “Wyoming Legal Tender Act” (2018), “Ad valorem taxation” (2017), and “Senior center meal sales tax exemption” (2016) were signed into law. All of these removed unjust tax burdens from Wyoming citizens.
Roy also led three unsuccessful attempts to move some of Wyoming’s savings into precious metals. His constant concern was to be faithful with the resources God has given to the state today in order to leave a better Wyoming for those born tomorrow. In fact, Roy’s heart for the unborn can also be seen in his co-sponsorship of seven bills to protect the unborn. Three of these were signed into law.
Tax repeals, precious metals and pro-life legislation may strike you as a strange hodge-podge of legislative concerns. I assure you they are not. Roy was deeply imbued with the thinking of America’s founders. Like them, he allowed his faith to penetrate his politics deeply. This allowed him fully to integrate the practical and material needs of people with their social and spiritual needs.
That, I believe, is the greatest legacy that Wyoming has received from Roy Edwards. In our day ideologues are intent on driving faith out of the public square. For seven decades, we have been propagandized to believe that the “separation of church and state” is a constitutional principle. It is not. It is, rather, alien to America’s founding principles and illegitimately imported into American political discourse.
By internalizing this poisonous thought, conservatives often enter into public discourse with their most powerful weapon left in its sheath. They fight for a better community and state with their right arms tied behind their backs. Then, they wonder why truth, justice and goodness continue to lose ground to lies, corruption and evil.
Roy Edwards was not burdened by this false idea. He was unapologetic about his Christian faith and he fully integrated it into his public life. Community service, for him, was not a distraction from his faith. It was the life of faith itself. If this made him appear unsophisticated to some, that is their loss.
In the face of opposition from right and left, Roy had the quiet confidence to stay the course. His principled conservatism was unshakable because it was not rooted in shallow slogans, but in a deep understanding of the human condition.
Roy was a man of Wyoming because he championed its values, not simply because he was born here. He was an ardent defender of a way of life that settled this land and made her communities good and wholesome. By God’s grace we were given many years of his faithful service, and an example to follow into the future.
The Wyoming flag has been flying at half-mast all week. This is an honorable and fitting remembrance of Roy Edwards. When it is again hoisted to its full height, let us carry on with the quiet boldness of people who know where we come from and where we are going. That is the legacy of one Wyoming man.