Laurie Theresa Harbort
Readers of the Catholic Leader during the period 1955 to 1980
A Tribute to John James Edwards
John James Edwards was involved in many firsts throughout his 87 years, not that he would have ever told you.
A stoic man who spent much of his life tinkering and working with his hands, John was known for getting in there, getting it done and not boasting about it. Community-minded and industrious, he showed this spirit through his actions to help create connections between those around him.
Flying was Johns's biggest passion after his family, clocking 2,851.25 hours in the air over more than 50 years. When not in the cockpit, he restored and built the machines, establishing himself as one of the country's most prolific "first of type" builders.
He managed to construct one aeroplane in the backyard of his retirement home in the town of Kingston SE, 300 kms south of Adelaide.
The problem was getting the large fuselage over the fence once it was built. A crane was needed to hoist it out of the complex before the wings could be attached. While no one got in trouble, it did land him in the local paper for the photo of the week for such a bizarre sight. After a valiant 17-year fight against cancer, John passed away in Kingston SE on July 8, 2022. But it wasn't going to take him easily.
During the pandemic, when doctors told him he only had six months to live, John purchased a rundown 1953 Austin A30 - the same model as his first car - from Victoria to restore. Unable to stand for too long, he delegated the work and eventually was able to sell it for a profit.
Unfortunately, he was unable to finish his next and final project of restoring a lightwing plane, which he was doing with his friend Bruce. His friend Robin is in the process of finishing it off for the family to sell.
John was born to Ernest Clarance Edwards and Jean Winifred Miller on August 16, 1934, in his mother's hometown of Clare in South Australia, about 150 kms north of Adelaide. He was the youngest of four children, with fond memories of sharing his school lunch with older brother Don and sisters Isobel and Margaret at "Pa and Grandma Miller's" house.
The family moved to Adelaide's Thebarton in 1941 and later New Hindmarsh so that Ernest could contribute to the war effort in the munition factory. John began work in his mid-teens after completing a year-and-a-half at Thebarton Technical School.
He finished school on Friday, not realising it would be his last day in the classroom, convincing his mother he should get a job shearing sheep with his father and brother Don. Work began on Monday, with the trio travelling to various stations through regional South Australia.
However, the family's path changed when they became involved in establishing South Australia's retail crayfish (now lobster) industry. The boys would travel six hours each way from Adelaide to Cape Jaffa down dusty and corrugated roads to pick up and deliver the catch. John would go door-to-door selling the crustaceans, eventually settling in Kingston SE, which is known today for being home to the Big Lobster.
It gave him a taste for small business. In 1960, John established the town's first milk round and a business cooking crayfish, which was followed two years later by a job running the local Caltex fuel agency. After doing this for three years, he sold all three pursuits to run the Kingston SE Dry Cleaners, developing it into a commercial laundry for hotels and motels.
In his service to the community, he joined the early crew of the St John Ambulance Service in the 1960s. He was involved in raising funds to build the town's first kindergarten and was a long term member of the Lions Club. As an avid pilot, John was on the committee which helped to establish Kingston Airport, which is still used today, and became the first in town to receive a licensed instructor rating for ultralight aircraft to allow him to teach others to fly. Another great passion of his was travel.
His first trip overseas was in July 1995 with fellow aviator Victor to Oshkosh, USA, to see one of the biggest air shows in the world. Ten years later, in January 2005, he was joined by his daughter Kerry on a day flight over Antarctica and took his first cruise in 2012 to Tonga and the Pacific Islands, wearing a bright green shirt to get into the party spirit.
Generally, his trips back in Australia were like mini-reunions. Whether a drive across the Nullarbor Plain to Perth or a train from Brisbane to Cairns via Rockhampton, Airlie Beach and Townsville, there were always family and friends to see.
John was married twice. He is survived by his four children, Kerry, Lea, Peter and Stephen; five grandchildren, Max, Anthony, Monique, Emily, and William; and five great-grandchildren, Devin, Taya, Emma, Brodie, and Miles.
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