Jerry Edwards poured his adventurous spirit, his love of the outdoors and his compassion for co-workers into his job as a self-employed forestry silviculture consultant.
By the time he started Grizzly Forest Management in Prince George in January 1999, he’d worked for several companies and had already begun to carve his reputation in the forest industry for delivering accurate and timely work.
It was Edwards’s job to survey cutblocks that had been harvested and reforested and compile reports about the health of the newly-forested areas. Often that meant travelling by helicopter or quad to areas without roads and bushwhacking in rough terrain through grizzly territory.
He loved his job and the people he worked with but it was often difficult and dangerous work.
On Tuesday morning, the 56-year-old Edwards arrived with his crew of four at Purden Lake Resort, 62 kilometres east of Prince George, and they climbed into the Bell 206L helicopter owned and operated by pilot Keith Buchanan to start their day doing contract work for Canfor.
Shortly after takeoff the helicopter crashed in a forested area not far from the launch site and Edwards and the 63-year-old Buchanan were killed. The four other passengers were treated for minor injuries and later released from hospital.
“Work was who he was, that’s what defined him,” said Keri Edwards, Jerry’s wife.
“His job was his life, he was everything in the company. Yes he did have employees but it all funnelled through him. He did his own accounting, everything.”
As one of the other six employees working for Grizzly, Carolyn Thorp said Edwards treated his staff well beyond their expectations. He would reward their loyalty and hard work with gifts, bonuses and company parties.
“It is a testimony to an employer when your people hang in year after year - he was a kind, generous and very fair boss who put his employees first,” said Thorp.
“The company was small, but we did good work. Bottom line, though, it was Jerry who put in the time, thought and detail into the quality work that was handed in to the varying forest companies we worked for. I know that the licensees had great respect for Jerry.”
Thorp first met Edwards in 1989 when they were working for the same forestry company and she was a data entry clerk and before long they and their spouses and kids had become good friends.In 2010 he hired her to join him in the bush conducting surveys. Thorp’s favourite days on the job were working with Edwards and driving with him to remote jobsites. She felt safe with him and his Australian shepherds, Jasmine and Kona, keeping watch for wild animals and other hazards while they worked.
Edwards, a native of Brandon, Man., had originally planned to pursue a career in fish and wildlife management but instead studied at BCIT to become a registered forest technologist, where he discovered his niche in survey work.
The job kept him physically fit and in shape to play tennis (in his sandals) and go cross-country skiing and snowboarding. Just two months after an operation in March to replace a heart valve, he was back in the bush working.
“When I think of Jerry I think of how happy he was outside, how happy he was walking through the block,” said Thorp. “Even if it was gruelling terrain or pouring rain or unbelievable bugs or devil's club up over your head, it was what he loved.”
He collected rocks, mostly agates, liked woodworking and was into fishing, hiking, canoeing, camping and snowshoeing. Big hikes in the mountains, paddling the Bowron Lakes circuit and holidays to the big island in Hawaii with his family were how Edwards rewarded himself for the long days he put into his business.
As much as he enjoyed his work, family came first and his wife Keri, sons Brayden and Tanner, and the rest of the clan were his highest priorities.
“He wore his emotions on his sleeve and he was never shy about showing his emotions, which left an impression on me,” said Brayden.
“He was a real perfectionist in his work. Not only was it physically demanding but he put such high standards on himself, higher than anybody else, and he was really the only one who could do what he did in terms of his work because he was such a perfectionist. His job really was rife with danger, but it was the love of his life doing that work.”
As the hub of the family, he helped his mom and step-father, Judy and Gord Ashcroft, move to Prince George from Manitoba three years ago, where they could be close to his brother Mike, and they got together regularly for family dinners at Jerry and Keri’s log home in Salmon Valley to indulge in Jerry’s love for cooking and baking.
Jerry rode a Harley and he and Mike and Tanner made the pilgrimage several times to the Sturgis motorcycle rally in South Dakota. He loved playing pool and Wednesday night at Black Diamond Bowl and Billiards was ‘guys night’ where he would meet up with his sons and stepfather. His sense of humour provided comic relief on Friday mornings when he was usually the only guy at Keri’s gatherings with friends at Second Cup.
“He was so giving, he kind of put everybody else ahead of himself,” said Keri.
“He taught me how to treat people. If you had his respect you were golden. He was a wonderful husband, partner, teammate, father and friend, it’s just a huge loss.”
Keri doesn’t know what led to the crash and said the Transportation Safety Board of Canada report will likely take a year to complete. She said her husband and Buchanan flew together often and he always felt safe.
“He thought of him as an excellent pilot, people who have known him in the past fully respected him as a pilot all around,” she said.
Jerry is also survived by his ex-wife Wendy Edwards, Tanner and Brayden’s mother. A celebration of his life is being planned for Saturday, Oct. 14 at a yet-to-be-determined time and location.