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Charleston loses a hero and model citizen

Rest in Peace, Edwin

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If you were one of the few people who did not know Edwin Gardner, you truly missed out. He was a local resident who died two weeks ago after being hit while riding on his bicycle in downtown Charleston. He will be sorely missed.

I am one of countless many who are struck by the senseless tragedy of his untimely passing, but I thought it appropriate to dedicate my column to him in the hopes that some might learn from Edwin, even as we celebrate his too-short life. It is my hope that we might use his example to learn what it means to be a vibrant, caring member of this community.

The best way to describe Edwin is this: I rarely met anyone as passionate about anything as Edwin was about everything.

I met him when I was a young lawyer who had just moved back to Charleston after being away for college and law school. The year was 1996, and I was looking for ways to get more involved in my community. A tall, lanky gentleman with a warm, disarming smile soon gave me an opportunity. The man was Edwin, and the opportunity was something he called the Mosquito Fleet. I soon learned that when Edwin Gardner got behind a cause, he put 110 percent into it, and he expected you to do the same.

The concept of the Mosquito Fleet was this: engage at-risk youth in inner-city Charleston by recruiting them to build two large historic rowboats, which they would then take to the Charleston waterways as a team in order to build camaraderie.

Edwin wanted me to act partly as a mentor to the youths and partly as a legal consultant who would give advice on operating as a state nonprofit or navigating the various legal hurdles involving access to maritime areas. I was a bit skeptical at first. This idealistic individual was going to get kids with nothing else to do to leave a life of leisure to work for free? Building boats no less? And with no real money to sustain the project?

Edwin made this happen and did much more. He engaged several members of the inaugural Mosquito Fleet crew so thoroughly that he became a mentor and father figure to many of them. I still remember, several years afterward, getting a worried call from Edwin. He phoned to ask me for assistance when one of his former Mosquito Fleet crew members had a legal problem. I came to find out that the mother of the former crew member was in danger of being evicted from public housing for what appeared to be a technicality. The family had nowhere else to turn, and as often would occur, Edwin responded quickly and the problem was solved. Tragically, it was while returning from a Mosquito Fleet event that his life was taken.

Fourteen years after starting the Mosquito Fleet, Edwin was just as passionate about making a difference in the lives of kids who had no one else fighting for them. He was equally as passionate about making Charleston's roadways safe for cyclists, another cruel irony about the circumstances around his death. Hopefully, the way in which he died may be a rallying point in getting some of the protections he wanted for cyclists enacted in Charleston.

Edwin leaves behind a beautiful wife and daughter and a host of friends who were touched by his intelligence, wit, and personality. He made Charleston a better place by his dedication to numerous causes and his civic enthusiasm.

The lesson I hope we all learn from Edwin is what it truly means to be a community advocate in a small city such as Charleston. Rest in peace, my friend.

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