A Life: Bruce Edwards, 1948 — 2013; ‘He Always Tried to See the Good in Others’

Stevens High School assistant basketball coach Bruce Edwards takes a quiet moment with forward Stephen Condon after a home loss in Dec. 2006. (Valley News - Channing Johnson)

Stevens High School assistant basketball coach Bruce Edwards takes a quiet moment with forward Stephen Condon after a home loss in Dec. 2006. (Valley News - Channing Johnson)

Claremont — Bruce Edwards never seemed at a loss for an encouraging word and a quick smile.

Whether it was a struggling student, an athlete after a tough defeat or a young man working to become an Eagle Scout, Edwards had a gift for lifting spirits, building confidence and making others feel good about themselves.

“I knew that about him,” said his son, Dan. “But I still can’t believe all of the people he affected.”

Edwards, 64, died last month after a period of failing health. He left behind a legacy as a Scout, teacher and coach .

“He always had a joke or a word of encouragement,” said Mike Blackwell, of Claremont, who earned his Eagle Scout in 2010 under Edwards.

“He just connected with students and all young people really well,” said Stevens High School physics teacher Tom Liveston, a close friend who also knew Edwards through Scouting. “That is what made him such a great Scout leader.”

Edwards tutored students one-on-one as a paraprofessional at Stevens.

“He had high expectations and demanded a lot from them, but I don’t recall any student who didn’t get along with him,” said Liveston.

This year’s Battle at Barnes Park, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament, is being played in Edwards’ honor.

Ivy Desilets, who played soccer at Stevens High School under Edwards, said her boyfriend, Stephen Condon, who played basketball for Edwards, suggested the idea.

“He did so many great things for the community, it would be a way to honor him,” Desilets said.

The 18-and-over tournament is June 21, 22 and 23. Teams can register at the community center. Desilets said there will be a “donation bucket” at the tournament, and the money collected will be split between the Boy Scouts and Stevens’ athletics.

Edwards was born and raised in Windsor and graduated from Windsor High School in 1966. Three years later he met his future wife, Sharon, somewhat by accident, as Sharon tells it.

“We met because my brother and sister-in-law lived next to his parents. He was going to be introduced to my sister but she suddenly had a new boyfriend so I got him by default,” Sharon said with a laugh.

They dated the summer of 1969 when Sharon had a month off from nursing school and were married two years later, eventually making their home in Claremont.

The same thing that others said about Edwards, over and over, struck Sharon. “He was so caring, He cared deeply about other people.

“He always tried to see the good in others,” she continued. “When someone tried to show him that people weren’t always like that, he liked to prove them wrong.” When his parents became ill late in life, Sharon said Edwards committed himself to caring for them.

“He gave them the support they needed,” Sharon said, adding that her husband’s example of love was not lost on their children.

Years later, when Edwards became ill, Sharon said their two sons, Sean and Dan, did what their father had done.

“They stepped up the same way he did for his parents and did what needed to be done,” she said.

Edwards graduated from Concord College in 1972 and later served as staff sergeant in the Army followed by service in the National Guard. He worked for both Joy Manufacturing and Cannon Industries and most recently at Stevens High School in the classroom.

His involvement in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and in coaching soccer and basketball is nearly legendary.

It was his wife who suggested he consider becoming a Cub Scout master when their younger son, Dan, was just joining and their older son, Sean, had been a Cub Scout for a few years.

“They were looking for a new Cub master and I thought it would be a way to occupy his mind while dealing with his father’s illness,” Sharon recalled.

If kind and encouraging describes Edwards, so does committed, dedicated and meticulous.

“Bruce is very thorough,” said Sharon. “When he does something, he does it wholeheartedly. One-hundred percent.” Edwards approached his role as Cub master with an uncommon zeal for organization.

“When I first started, things were a little haphazard,” recalled Sean. “He brought is ‘A’ mindset. Everything got done and he really put an effort into recruiting. It became almost his second job.” Added Sharon, “one hour a week turned into two or three hours a day. I don’t think a day went by when he didn’t do something for the Scouts.”

In just two years in the 1980s, Pack 314 went from four to 85 members not only because of Edwards’ hard work but also his welcoming personality.

“So many kids have told me they were nervous about joining the Scouts but when they walked into the room and saw Bruce, they immediately felt comfortable,” Sharon said.

Eagle Scout Blackwell was one of those anxious youngsters.

“I came from a Pack in Unity (to join the Scouts in Claremont,)” Blackwell said. “I was so nervous. Then he started talking to me and from that point I knew he would be someone who would become a role model for me.

“He was always there when you needed to talk about Scout stuff or life stuff.” Sharon said with Bruce’s guidance and organizational skills, others adults were inclined to help.

When Dan became a Boy Scout, Edwards moved up with him and became a Scoutmaster in 1992.

“He definitely went beyond what a Scoutmaster usually does,” said Noah Campbell of Charlestown, who also earned his Eagle Scout under Edwards’s guidance.

“He was an easy going guy and he always let you know what you needed to do. But he didn’t talk at you. He was always very friendly.”

Edwards received numerous awards for his work in Scouting, including Scout Master of the Year, Cub Master of the Year and the Silver Beaver, the highest award that can be bestowed on a Scouter.

Liveston said Edwards was never pushy with his charges.

“He just stayed on them to make sure they reached their goal,” Liveston said. “He always told them he wanted them to enjoy the Scouting experience but if they wanted to become an Eagle Scout, he would help them get there.” Edwards’ dedication was also in evidence in the coaching realm and in the classroom.

When he became a paraprofessional at the high school, Sharon said she would find him doing “homework” each night.

“He used to say ‘how can I expect the kids to do it, if I don’t do it.’ He spent a couple of hours a night doing homework.” Liveston agreed that Edwards coached soccer and basketball at the Goodwin Community Center when his boys were younger and continued with coaching opportunities at the U-12 level and at Stevens.

Desilets was a freshman when Edwards was the assistant Stevens varsity girls’ soccer coach about 10 years ago.

“He had a contagious smile,” said Desilets. “He could light up a room with that smile.

“We actually called him our ‘soccer mom.’ He was really, really good at cheering people up.” Tough losses were reasons for optimism in Edwards’ view of the world.

“He could make it a positive and teach us to put it behind us,” Desilets said.

Former Stevens varsity basketball coach Bill McIver said he would “echo” all the praise others had for Edwards. During McIver’s six-year tenure at Stevens between 2004 and 2010, Edwards was his assistant.

“The kids loved him. He was always positive and encouraging,” said McIver.

While the head coach said he had to get on his players from time to time, Edwards’ role was the opposite.

“He was willing to lend a shoulder to cry on,” McIver said. “They always had a friend in Bruce.” His interest in the Stevens program went beyond wins and losses, McIver said.

“We used to talk about the kids and the program and what we wanted to accomplish. How the kids would represent the school and the community.

“Bruce was a huge part of that transformation,” McIver said.

Edwards won the NBA/WNBA Sportsmanship Award in 2001 and the first Roger Grenier Coaches Award in 2002.

Edwards’ praise for students and athletes was genuine, Desilets said.

“He always told us what great people we were and he made you believe it,” she said. “He was very sincere.” His son Sean said his father had the same sincerity and big heart at home.

“The effort he put into Scouts was the same effort he put into being a father. He was just very devoted and always there for you,” Sean, 34, the older of Edwards’ two sons.

Even tough times couldn’t deflate Edwards’ optimism, Sean said.

When he was unemployed for a few years after being laid off from Joy Manufacturing, Sean said his father had a way of making it appear that everything was fine.

“Looking back at those days, I am amazed. He always made it look like we were not strapped for cash. We had gifts at Christmas and took our summer vacations to Maine.”

Liveston said he socialized with Edwards and often they would have lunch at the senior center.

“He was always very personable. Someone who you just enjoyed being in his company,” said Liveston.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com