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F.C.’s Katherine ‘Sweet Pea’ Edwards Turns 99

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Katherine Edwards’ daughter may attribute her mother’s healthy longevity to a loyal intake of whole milk and peanuts, but Edwards chalks it up to her hardworking doctors, especially a heart specialist named Kathleen McGee. Copy-of-843edwardsEDIT.jpg

McGee’s the one responsible for starting up Edwards’ nickname “Sweet Pea,” after which Edwards, naturally, gave out her own handle.

“She called me Sweet Pea, and so I called her Peanut,” Edwards told the News-Press in a matter-of-fact tone over tea at her Falls Church home last Thursday, one day before celebrating her 99th birthday among family and friends.

She moved to Falls Church in 1947 with her husband Luther Rice Edwards of Franklin, Va., who passed away in 1989 due to cancer. Edwards and her husband raised their four daughters in their then-$16,000 home, all of whom graduated from George Mason High School.

“My goodness, when we moved here, we paid that little bit for the house and there were even livestock living behind us,” Edwards said in reference to the development of Falls Church City since the 1940s.

Referring to the pony-filled farm adjacent to her home’s backyard at the time, Edwards said she didn’t mind the four-legged scenery, especially since she grew up with animals on her parents’ dairy farm in Suffolk, Va. It was there where she discovered her debate skills in high school, skills so polished that they won her Virginia’s state debate competition in 1928, rarity for a woman in that day and age.

After furthering her education and graduating from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in the 1930s, Edwards moved to Washington, D.C. to attend a secretary school, where her friend from Suffolk was already enrolled.

“We lived across the street from the Russian Embassy, right around the time we were at odds with Russia,” said Edwards, who laughed at the thought.

Not used to the big city, taxicabs were new to this small-town girl, not to mention impromptu meetings with the president on the streets of D.C. It was during one particular cab ride with a friend when their driver asked the two girls if they’d like to meet President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Edwards and her friend managed a “yes” among squeals of anticipation as the driver pulled up to the hospital where Roosevelt was exiting.

“He saw us standing outside of the taxicab and bowed and scraped us like we were the King of England,” said Edwards, who noted that her early days in Washington were quite eventful for a girl who was used to freedom of action.

Edwards, admitting no one could grow up in Suffolk to be anything but a Democrat, remembered marching down Washington’s streets and rooting for Roosevelt in her younger years. This past Election Day, she recalled going to the Falls Church City Hall, where she cast her vote for President-elect Barack Obama.

“I felt I changed in a way voting for Obama, but I felt he was, and is, the one person – one Democrat even – that would carry enough weight in his cabinet and in his choice of people to face up to the type of world we’re living in today. It was the safest move for America to make,” said Edwards.

Edwards herself isn’t the only thing to change around this town. She told the News-Press stories of a 1950s Falls Church that sounded almost inconceivable, stories of annual winter snows that were so heavy, sleighs were put into action by local youngsters. Edwards and her husband’s four daughters, Nancy Brockman, Katherine Edwards, Marion Birkhead and Priscilla Englert, would join the other neighborhood kids for sledding on Poplar Hill, atop which parents would serve hot chocolate around a bonfire.

“Oh, it was so picturesque,” said Edwards, who admittedly braved her way down the hill but one time.

Her daughters remember these Christmas memories well, as they do their mother’s many mantras, which Edwards said were inspired mostly from her high school literature teacher. Though, perhaps Edwards said it best herself.

“Hold fast, hold fast your dreams. Keep one small place apart in your heart, where dreams may go, and sheltered so, will grow. Hold fast, hold fast your dreams.”