In his first public comments since leaving prison, former Gov. Edwin Edwards on Tuesday night told a preservation awards gala that people should learn from the past.

Edwards said that when he served in Congress, he recalled seeing a Shakespeare quote engraved on a Washington, D.C., building that said, “What’s past is prologue.”

“It’s very important to remember our past, the good and the bad,” Edwards said at a Foundation for Historical Louisiana dinner. Learning from the past better prepares people for the future, he said.

Edwards then told a risqué joke that underscored the point he was making.

Among the honorees were Leo Honeycutt, who wrote Edwards’ authorized biography, and Claude “Buddy” Leach, a former legislator and congressman who gave Edwards the job he needed to move from prison to home confinement. Leach hired Edwards, the state’s only four-term governor, as a business consultant.

It was Edwards’ first public event since he earlier this month completed the last months of a 10-year federal prison term in home confinement. Edwards, now 83, was convicted on racketeering charges related to the award of state casino gambling licenses.

Dressed in a dark suit with a red rose, Edwards stood in the middle of the room before the event began, casually speaking to well-wishers and introducing his fiancée, Trina Grimes Scott. Prior to the beginning of the ceremony Edwards repeated to reporters that he would not speak publicly until the end of the month.

After Honeycutt received his award, he called Edwards to the podium. Most of the people in the crowd stood to applaud.

Edwards said he read Honeycutt’s book under what he called “strange circumstances” and often wished that he could be like the man portrayed in the biography.

The Leach family received the “Bricks & Mortar Award” for preservation of the historic King Hotel, which opened in downtown Baton Rouge earlier this year as the Hotel Indigo.

The seven-story building dates back to the 1920s. It was converted from a hotel to a dormitory and then an office building. It had been sitting unoccupied and in disrepair.

Edwards is scheduled to step up his public appearances in the coming days in Baton Rouge, with book signings Saturday at Barnes & Noble-CitiPlace Court and Sunday at the bookstore’s Perkins Rowe location.

After those events there will be book signings at other locations around the state.

Other honorees at the foundation’s 35th annual preservation awards were Elise Grenier, a fine art and building conservator; Bradley Voget, preservation advocate, National Trust for Historic Preservation; and “Inherit Baton Rouge,” an LSU Mass Communications student project.

The Friends of St. Paul Catholic Church in Bayou Goula received the “Phoenix Award.”