The Rev. Dr. Mary Carol Edwards, a spiritual seeker and wise woman, died peacefully on August 22, 2013, in a hospice in Abingdon, Virginia. A curious and grateful student of life, her lifelong desire to learn and grow served as an example to others. Carol was a courageous, compassionate soul who once wrote that her deepest anger concerned the lack of care expressed for children in our culture, followed closely by the lack of care for our home planet. And yet she was a deeply joyous lover of life and people. Her life’s work was dedicated to and guided by a deep reverence for the natural world and love of children, all grounded in a delightful, irreverent sense of humor.
Carol was born, three days before Christmas, and raised in Pacific Palisades. She credited growing up in the natural beauty of the Palisades with her deep passion and concern for protecting and preserving the natural environment.
Carol began full-time work when she was 16 and established a career when most women were stay-at-home housewives. Her love of children drew her to teach and then direct an early-education children’s program in Santa Monica. She received her formal training in human development and education at the Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena and the Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley.
She was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica before being hired as their Director of Religious Education. Carol’s intuitive and honest pastoral presence and her belief in the interrelatedness of people, place, and events — in the power of community — accompanied by her gracious ministerial leadership, convinced the congregation to take the unusual step of ordaining Carol as their Minister of Religious Education. In 1988, she was called as the Minister of Religious Education for the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. Her enthusiasm and love of life and children were contagious. She ministered to all ages and was a masterful facilitator and creative leader and innovator who worked to end the segregation of children and adults so prevalent in our culture. She was a member of the Interfaith Clergy group and coordinated the first AIDS Memorial Service of Hope and Healing held at the Unitarian Society.
In 1991, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Starr King School for the Ministry for her outstanding work as a pioneering Minister of Religious Education and was a mentor to many men and women preparing for the Unitarian Universalist (UU) ministry. She served as president of the Unitarian Universalist Liberal Religious Educators Association from 1985-87.
Carol retired from professional ministry in 1994. That didn’t diminish her concern for the well-being of children, especially those in low-income families. She served as a member of the Santa Barbara County Human Services Commission and volunteered with the Santa Barbara Family Care Center. She continued teaching religious education classes as a volunteer with the lucky children of Live Oak UU Congregation in Goleta and encouraged the formation of the Song Tree concerts there.
She loved to garden and sail while she had the mobility and energy; sing; read; attend movies, choral, and symphony orchestra concerts; and travel with friends. She was one of those people who watched C-SPAN religiously and then told you about it.
In 2003, Carol moved to Abingdon, Virginia, where she helped develop the guiding principles for an intentional cohousing community, ElderSpirit Community at Trailview, and became one of its first residents. She continued her involvement in environmental and community affairs in Abingdon. Over the years, Carol’s declining energy created a growing desire for simplicity in her life, and “keep it simple” became her motto. This extended to her spiritual life, and during her last few years, she became a Quaker.
Carol was so pleased and proud of her late son, Kenny Edwards, a songwriter and singer, who worked with many musicians including Linda Ronstadt and was a mentor to young musicians in the area. Her two husbands, Kenneth Clyde Edwards and Robert V. Stern; her parents, Henry John Keller and Dorothy Loughton Penniman Keller; and a brother, William Keller, also predeceased her.
A celebration of Carol’s life will be held at 3 p.m., Sunday, October 6, at the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 820 North Fairview Avenue in Goleta.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions in Carol’s name may be made to Heal the Ocean, P.O. Box 90106, Santa Barbara, CA 93190, or the Head Start Program c/o the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara, 5638 Hollister Avenue, Suite 230, Goleta, CA 93117.
Rev. Bets Wienecke is a minister emerita with the Live Oak Unitarian Universalist Congregation.