Baton Rouge State Rep. Ronnie Edwards died Wednesday at the age of 63, ending a more than two-year battle with late stage pancreatic cancer.
While Edwards was recently sworn into the Louisiana Legislature, she’s better known for her six years serving the Baton Rouge Metro Council, where she was known for her passion for affordable housing and her warm demeanor.
House Speaker Taylor Barras confirmed Edwards death on Wednesday evening in the State Capitol before the full House of Representatives.
She was elected to the seat in November and sworn in Jan. 11 but was never able to return to the State Capitol to fulfill her duties.
“She was trying to get her strength to be able to come in for the special session,” said state Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge, a longtime friend, who remembered Edwards as “very spiritual, quiet-spoken, very gentle and kind.”
Edwards was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, which is the fourth most deadly cancer, in December 2013. But for the first year and a half, she did not stop her work at the local level and maintained perfect attendance at Metro Council meetings, where she became an ever-louder advocate for promoting healthy living initiatives and cancer screenings. She also continued her work in housing for the Urban Restoration Enhancement Corporation.
She previously said her diagnosis and experience in the health care system was a partial motivator for her bid for the state house because she wanted to advocate for ways to bring health care access to more people.
“She had a key concern for her constituents,” said Baton Rouge Mayor-President Kip Holden. “She would listen to them and work to improve their quality of life.”
Holden, who calls Edwards a friend, said the former councilwoman was a “navigator and a peacemaker.”
“She leaves a terrible void there, based on all the things she’s done to help as many people as possible,” he said. “I thank God for the time we had.”
By June 2015, Edwards became sick enough that she couldn’t attend council meetings. She started commuting back and forth from Atlanta to receive treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
But despite the setback, she ran for state representative, qualifying for election by proxy as she was still being kept at the Baton Rouge General for treatment.
“She was a fighter,” said freshman state Rep. Denise Marcelle. “She fought it down to the last day, I imagine.”
Marcelle and Edwards were colleagues on the council, both representing north Baton Rouge districts and were both elected to the state House last fall.
Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement offering condolences to Ronnie Edwards’ family. The governor is of no relation to Ronnie Edwards.
“She fought for her district with the same fortitude with which she fought a difficult two-year battle with cancer,” he said. “Her time in the House of Representatives was short, but it was a dream come true for her and a testament to her hard work and determination not to let anything hold her back, not even illness.”
Edwards was a devout Christian and a wife of about 45 years to Oliver Edwards. She was a mother to two adult children and grandmother to three.
In a 2014 interview with The Advocate about her battle with cancer, she credited the support of her family and friends for her early strength and ability to overcome.
Edwards said it was important to never let her diagnosis get in the way of her life. She often referred to herself as a “survivor,” saying she was hoping to provide an example to other people with cancer diagnoses.
“It’s important to complete a goal,” she said in an interview last September. “I think oftentimes, when people have a challenge in life, they put their goals on the shelf, and I don’t want to have any regret. I don’t want to say, ‘What if?’ I want to live my life to the fullest and do all that I can to make contributions.”
Reporter Tyler Bridges contributed to this report.