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Manti Te’o, Bill Edwards and a simpler time

Notre Dame hoax brings back memories of a local one

By Taylor Batten
Editorial Page Editor

Now that we’ve all overcome our sadness at Lennay Kekua’s life being cut tragically short, let’s take a moment to remember dear ol’ Bill Edwards. His life and death were a bit like Kekua’s – in one key way.

Kekua, of course, was the woman who star Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o (perhaps) deeply loved. Te’o won the nation’s sympathy and admiration, excelling as one of college football’s most outstanding players this season even while wrestling with his grief over Kekua’s death of leukemia at age 22.

Kekua never existed, it turned out. It was all a huge hoax that duped Sports Illustrated, other media outlets and college football fans everywhere. Whether Te’o was a victim or a co-conspirator is not known.

Either way the Te’o affair reminded me of Edwards, whose story, as most Davidson College graduates know, was told through the class notes in Davidson’s alumni magazine.

The late Mike Myers of Charlotte, Davidson class of ’53, was the class notes secretary. Armed with a wonderful imagination and slightly off-kilter sense of humor, Myers brought Edwards to life in 1963.

“Remember Bill Edwards?” Myers nudged in the October 1963 edition. “He writes he’s still a bachelor, has just put his savings into a ‘valueless chunk of land near the Metuchen, N.J., airport with no roads within three miles…’”

At first, class members couldn’t quite place ol’ Bill. But with each successive class note, Myers helped them remember.

In 1964, Myers let the class know that Edwards had been elected to the board of directors of Early American Savings of New Jersey, “that state’s 14th largest bank,” and described Edwards’ becoming a real estate mogul (the airport paid him 3 cents per yard for 2 million yards to scrape his land for a runway extension). In 1966, Edwards married Sonja Van Julian, a Nigerian who was working as a “pool bunny” at the New York Playboy Club. In 1971, Bill and Sonja became co-chairs of the New England Women’s Liberation Movement. “Bill will burn bras and carry clever sloganed signs,” Myers reported. In 1972: “Bucolic, firm-browed Bill Edwards has moved from Metuchen, N.J., to his Singapore office to continue research on the zero gravity reentry platform.”

With each note, as the story was always told to me, Davidson alumni began to remember their classmate better and better. Then, in 1973, just before the class’s 20th reunion, tragedy struck:

“We are saddened to learn from Leon Howell in Hong Kong of the death of Bill Edwards,” Myers reported. He had been fighting the Metuchen drug trade, went to find the source of the problem in Hong Kong and was killed by drug traffickers.

For their 20th reunion and in tribute to Edwards, Myers and the class raised $20,000 for the college’s library. Myers led a ceremony where he dedicated the “Bill Edwards Memorial Book Drop.” Moments later, he revealed the joke.

“Everyone had a huge laugh,” said Larry Dagenhart, class of ’53 and a Charlotte lawyer. “It was completely harmless. It was taken in good fun by the administration, by the students, by everybody.”

Five years later, the class had an elaborate funeral for Edwards, complete with hearse, widow and a casket dumped into Lake Norman. Ten years after that, they dedicated a stained glass window in the college laundry room in honor of Edwards. The inscription: “Cria Cuervos Y Te Sacaran Los Ojos.” Translation: “If you raise crows, they’ll peck your eyes out.” Myers raised money for the window by selling Bill Edwards memorial dinner plates, one for $3 or two for … $8.

We all want to believe in something or somebody. We want to believe a cancer survivor can fight all the way back to legally win the Tour de France seven times. We want to be inspired by Manti Te’o’s performance in the face of adversity. We delight in a home run duel, even if the players got abnormally large abnormally quickly.

Then we get burned, our emotions betrayed by millionaire entertainers looking out for Number One. Ah, for the days of Mike Myers, Bill Edwards and a little harmless fun.

Reach me at tbatten@charlotteobserver.com.
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