Physician assistant trailblazer Jesse Edwards dies at 83

Armed with a dry sense of humor and a knack for uniting people behind a cause, Jesse Edwards helped bring the physician assistant profession to the state of Nebraska.

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Jesse Edwards
"Jesse Edwards was a pioneer," Kyle Meyer, Ph.D., senior associate dean of the School of Allied Health Professions, said of Edwards, who died Tuesday at 83. "It could truly be said that his contributions had a transformative and permanent impact on the PA profession and PA education at UNMC."

Edwards -- a longtime UNMC faculty member -- was a key player in the development of the profession in the military and in the state of Nebraska. He was a founding father of the UNMC PA program in 1971 and helped establish the affiliation between the joint Air Force/Navy PA program and UNMC, which awarded a degree to students in the military.

"Jesse will be missed by all of us in the PA program," said Jim Somers, Ph.D., program director of the UNMC PA program and a longtime friend of Edwards. "His sense of humor, his warmth and his openness to everyone were legendary on the UNMC campus for many years.

Memorial service

A visitation with Edwards' family will be at Heafey Heafey Hoffman at 7805 W. Center Road on Sunday from 4 to 6 pm with a remembrance service to follow.

A funeral service will be on Monday at 10 a.m. at the mortuary. Interment will be at Forest Lawn, followed by a celebration of life at the Upstream Brewing Company in the Old Market.

Read a complete obituary of Edwards.

"He will be fondly remembered by PAs in Nebraska and all over the country for his pioneering spirit, his leadership and his many contributions to the profession."

After he retired from the U.S. Air Force, Edwards joined UNMC in 1968 as associate to the dean for business affairs in the College of Medicine.

He has served as both president and vice president of the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) and established its liaison relationship with the National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions.

In 2007, Dr. Edwards was the first recipient of the PAEA's Presidential Award. He also has received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Veterans Caucus of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.

He retired from UNMC in 2008 at age 80.


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John McElligott
June 08, 2011 at 1:14 AM

Jesse will be missed! He was one of a kind that touched so many lives. Good bye my friend. John McElligott MD

Tim Egan, MPAS, PA-C
May 21, 2011 at 6:48 AM

It is with very deep sadness that I heard of the passing of Jesse. While I have not known him for as many years as some folks, I've known him enough that in my heart that I can say that he was a great guy. He not only had a profound impact on my life, but also many other people as well. His family can rest assured that America and its health-care system are much better off because of the things that he did. It is because of him that hundreds of veterans who are physician assistants have the credentials and the skills needed to care for patients both in the military and in the civilian sector. He gave us the opportunity to be on par with civilian trained PAs by allowing us opportunity to earn a master's degree, which many of us would not have been able to either afford or have the time for in our busy work schedules to obtain. There's no doubt in my mind that he made the world a better place. On a more personal note, I always enjoyed being around Jesse at the Veterans Caucus meetings and Memorial Day services. He had a wonderful personality and great outlook on numerous subjects. Last time we really had a chance to sit down together was the Dining Out held at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia at the AAPA National Conference in 2007. My wife Jackie and I were fortunate enough to sit at a table with Sharon and Jesse and we had a great time and we will remember it always. Jesse will always be a hero of the profession in my eyes. Mere words just don't seem enough to express my feelings, but this is all that I can do. It was a pleasure to have known Jesse and I believe his contributions to PAs will carry on for many years. Most sincerely, Tim Egan P. S. He was always proud to have been a "Brown Shoe" Air Force man as well and there aren't many of us left to know what that really meant.

Mary Haven
May 13, 2011 at 8:39 PM

Jesse was a trusted and generous colleague and mentor. He was also my friend. He had a wealth of experience in bringing groups together and was happy to share his expertise with those who asked for it. I will not forget his warmth, his excellent advice and his dedication to the PA program and UNMC. What he did for physician assistants throughout America will never be repeated. When we speak of people who made a difference in this world, we know that Jesse Edwards belonged to that group. Think of the patients who have been seen by physician assistants just in the state of Nebraska! For those of us who knew him personally, we will miss him very much. Sharon, we know how much you helped in all these endeavors and we appreciate the support you gave to our Jesse.

Ken Pohl
May 13, 2011 at 2:37 PM

I first met him during Air Force PA school in 1993, he helped inspire us and remember to support U of Nebraska football; Go Big Red. He also reminded me to finish my Masters Degree by distance learning which he was so instrumental in giving us military PA's an avenue to complete our advanced degree. Thanks Jesse!

Jan Church-Bruner
May 12, 2011 at 2:04 PM

My first job ever was with Jess Edwards. He hired me in Sep. of 1967. That began a bond that never broke. We continued on together for several years before we split and went our separate ways. He was a fantastic boss and friend. Oh I could go on for pages, but will stop with UNMC and those who knew Jess will miss him

Anni PA-S
May 12, 2011 at 1:18 PM

What an amazing man! Mr. Edwards' impact on the PA program will always be remembered! Even though I only met him once, I will never forget his fun-loving spirit and humor. We should celebrate his fulfilled life as he would want us to. I send my thoughts and prayers to family and loved ones!

Jennifer Moseley
May 12, 2011 at 12:55 PM

The Edwards family has been a second family to my family since Jesse's daughter and I became best friends at age five. We like to take credit for our parents then becoming the best of friends! Both my sister (PA) and I were inspired into health care because of Jesse. This is a great loss to our community and a profound loss to all who loved him.

Patty (Edwards) Wessling
May 12, 2011 at 11:29 AM

Dad had two families - all of us at home and all of you at the Med Center. He was very good at balancing home and work. Dad's 40 year marriage, family, pure joy of life, friendliness, humor, appreciation for all things and his giving heart made his life complete and our family thanks all of his associates for being such a big part of his life.

Jess Jr.
May 12, 2011 at 11:06 AM

Our father was extremely proud of his affiliation with the UNMC and the opportunity lent to him to help develop the PA program through the years. Dad wanted contributions to be made to the Physician Assistant Foundation in lieu of flowers.

Sue Pope
May 12, 2011 at 6:04 AM

This is a sad day for Jesse will be missed. He was in the Dean's Office when I came to work at the Medical Center. In fact, he was the man that hired me and that was very long time ago! I will always remember him fondly.