John Cornwall Edwards died peacefully Thursday September 13, 2018 with his family at his side after a sudden illness. He was 90.
Sparkle-eyed and leaning into his listening, he made his loved ones and friends alike feel important with his attentiveness and his inevitable questions, points, and counterpoints on virtually any subject they introduced. A prolific consumer of all stories he could read, watch, or hear, Dr. Edwards adapted more than three dozen plays, novels, legends, and folk stories and brought them to the stage in his original manuscripts. Three of his adaptations went on to be performed at American College Theatre Festivals in New England. He was twice awarded a Gold Medal from the Kennedy Center. He served as the regional chairman of the American College Theatre Festival and was a member of the National Play Selection Committee for the Kennedy Center.
His lust for learning and intellectual adventures never abated, literally to the final full day of his life.
Dr. Edwards spent the lion’s share of his career as an enthusiastic chance-taking Director of Theatre at the University of New Hampshire, mentoring and encouraging dozens of students who went on to earn for themselves fulfilling careers in theatre, film, and television. He served as Director of Theatre and Professor in the UNH Theatre Department from 1961-1995, directing more than one hundred plays during his tenure. He also held visiting professorships at Cambridge University, at Regent’s College in London, and at Kobe University in Japan.
In addition to his academic-year responsibilities, Edwards directed, recruited apprentices for, cast professional actors, and for twenty years supervised the UNH Summer Repertory Theatre program. Until his death, Dr. Edwards served on the play selection committee for the John C. Edwards Undergraduate Prize Plays scholarships, funded in his honor by his former student, the writer and actor Mike O’Malley.
Dr. Edwards was imbued with endless energy to explore, with his faculty colleagues, new ways to present drama to audiences, from his characterization of Macbeth’s murderous goons raiding Macduff’s castle to an avant-garde tribute to Gertrude Stein.
He studied under Chamber Theatre pioneer Robert S. Breen in the Speech & Drama Department at Northwestern University, where he also achieved his Masters degree and Ph.D. After a brief stint at Texas Wesleyan University, he returned to teach at Northwestern before accepting a position as Director of Theatre at UNH in 1961 in the then-new Paul Arts Center.
Born on November 10, 1927 and raised in Beloit, Wisconsin, Edwards was enraptured with all that New Hampshire’s and New England’s glorious nature had to offer, whether it was sailing his boat around the Isles of Shoals in a gale or skiing in ridiculous wind chill at Wildcat Mountain. He lived his final years in Atlantic Beach, Florida.
His teaching lives on in those he encouraged to be fearlessly creative and to embrace the risks that creativity requires.
He is survived by his wife Susan and his and her children and their grandchildren: John’s daughter and son-in-law Susan and Bernard Rowlett and their daughter Chelsea; John’s son and daughter-in-law Jack and Lisa Edwards and their children Nina, Dagny and Elijah; Susan’s daughter and son-in-law Julia Rowe and Ron Kahn and Julia’s daughter Katie; Susan’s daughter and son-in-law Katharine Rowe and Andrew Buchwalter and their sons Sam and Julian; and Susan’s son and daughter-in-law John and Ann Rowe and their son John.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the John C. Edwards Theatre Scholarship Fund, at the University of New Hampshire Foundation, Elliott Alumni Center, 9 Edgewood Road, Durham, New Hampshire 03824 or online at John C. Edwards Theatre Scholarship Fund