“We all knew he was going to steal,” said one attendee, Jacinda LeJeune. “But he told us he was going to do it.”
Edwin Washington Edwards was born on Aug. 7, 1927, in rural Avoyelles Parish, near Marksville, the son of Clarence and Agnès (Brouillette) Edwards. His father was a half-French Creole Presbyterian, his mother a French-speaking Roman Catholic.
Like many 20th-century politicians from Avoyelles, Mr. Edwards assumed he had Cajun ancestry, but he may have had none. His father was descended from a family in Kentucky that arrived in Louisiana during the Civil War. Nevertheless, he was raised in the tradition of Cajuns, descendants of French settlers expelled from Nova Scotia by the British in 1755. He preached in a Protestant evangelical church as a youth, and he joined the Navy Air Corps toward the end of World War II.
Mr. Edwards graduated from Louisiana State University’s law school and began practice in Crowley, La., in 1949. Elected to Crowley’s City Council in 1954, he joined the vanguard of a new movement in state politics. Northern Louisiana, mostly conservative, had long dominated state races with money from its oil fields. But freewheeling southern Louisiana was recording surges in voting populations and prosperity from offshore oil and gas discoveries.
Fluent and articulate in English and Cajun French, Mr. Edwards went to the State Senate in 1964 and held a seat in Congress from 1965 to 1972. He won his 1971 race for the governorship as a reformer with heavy support from Southern Cajun, Creole and Black voters. In his first year in office, he appointed his wife, Elaine, to the United States Senate to replace Allen J. Ellender, who had died.
He had married Elaine Schwartzenburg in 1949; they had four children, Anna, Victoria, Stephen and David, and divorced in 1989. She died in 2018. He married Candace Picou in 1994. At his behest they were divorced in 2004, while he was in prison. In 2011, after his release, he married Trina Grimes Scott. She was 32; he was 83. She gave birth to a son, Eli, two years later.
In addition to his wife and their son, Mr. Edwards is survived by his children from his first marriage, 16 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.