MONTPELIER, Vt. – Donald Edwards, the former adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard who is credited with helping to modernize the force, has died.

The 81-year-old Edwards died Aug. 16 at his home in South Bristol, Maine.

His death was confirmed Friday by Dustin Hancock, of the Strong-Hancock Funeral Home in Damariscotta, Maine. Hancock did not know the cause of death.

National Guard Maj. Gen. Donald Edwards

Edwards served as the leader of the Vermont National Guard from 1981 until 1997. During that time he oversaw the deployment of a Vermont company that participated in the Gulf War during 1990 and 1991 and the Vermont Air National Guard’s transition from flying the F-4 fighter planes to the F-16s the guard still flies today.

He also oversaw the 1983 creation of what is now the Army’s Mountain Warfare School in Jericho that trains U.S. service members and others from across the country and the world in the skills of fighting in the mountains.

“The school put the (Vermont) Army National Guard on the map, it really did,” said Lloyd Goodrow who served as the Vermont National Guard public affairs officer for many years, including under Edwards’ command.

“He was a very powerful influence on both the Army and the Air National Guard,” Goodrow said. “When someone is gone is when you usually recognize what they’ve brought to the unit, but I think he really established a very powerful legacy that will keep the Vermont National Guard moving forward for decades.”

Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the current adjutant general of the Vermont National Guard, said Edwards served in a variety of capacities “to make Vermont a better place.”

“He was a great man, and I am proud to have known him and to have served with him in the Vermont National Guard during his tenure as Adjutant General,” Cray said in a statement. “He will be greatly missed and my sincerest condolences to his family.”

Vermont is the only state in the country where the adjutant general is elected by the state Legislature. In 1997 Edwards was defeated in a high-profile re-election bid by then Air National Guard Lt. Col. Martha Rainville, who went on to become the nation’s first female adjutant general.

Edwards also served as a Vermont lawmaker. After he left the guard, Edwards served on the staff of now independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and he worked in private industry.

A Vietnam veteran, Edwards graduated from Vermont’s Norwich University in 1959.

A memorial service is planned at Norwich University in Northfield on Oct. 20.

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