Bobby Edwards, Catawba Fish Camp owner, remembered

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by Greg Summers, Landmark News Service

Talk about an endorsement.

At one time, if you were talking to an out-of-towner and mentioned Lancaster, you would often get back: “Lancaster? That’s where the fish camp is.”

Robert “Bobby” Edwards, the hands-on, hard-working owner who gave Catawba Fish Camp that landmark status – one of the most popular eateries in the Carolinas – died Friday morning at White Oak Manor. He was 88.

“Everybody is going to miss him,” said JoMars owner John Panazis. “He was a good man, a hard worker and an even better friend. He taught me a lot and stopped by just about every day for coffee to see how I was doing.

“What can you say and how do you write about a man you can depend on better than a father? He would give you the right advice every time,” Panazis said. 

Edwards, a Lancaster native, learned the restaurant business from the ground up. In 1953, the former Army mess sergeant went to work part-time for his uncle, Pleas Baker, at the restaurant he had started. Catawba Fish Camp was on S.C. 9 just across the Chester County line. He also worked full-time at Rock Hill Bleachery and Finishing.

Do It Printing owner Rudy Carter grew up in Richburg and worked at the fish camp with Edwards in 1961-62. Carter said Edwards had a work ethic few could match.

“He would work third shift, come straight to the fish camp and work all day until closing,” Carter said. “He was always a go-getter. It’s hard to explain that to this generation because they just don’t get it.”

When Baker retired in 1968, Edwards took over the fish camp. In a June 2011 interview with The Lancaster News, an 82-year-old Edwards said a bleachery supervisor told him at the time that he was making a mistake, but Edwards knew better.

He called running the eatery a 24-hour-a-day job that hinged on hiring the best employees possible and paying them well.

“We’ve always tried to do that,” Edwards said.

Retired Lancaster Police Chief Bill Sumner is another of Edwards’ former employees.

“Old Bobby was always good to us and paid us more than we were really making,” Sumner said. “You’d be working and he’d walk by and stick money in your shirt pocket. He loved that fish camp, and we had a lot of fun around those fryers.”

Business at the fish camp never floundered, though it did suffer through one catastrophe.

In July 1975, the original 200-seat fish camp burned to the ground. Edwards rebuilt a new modern restaurant nearby that opened the next March. He said the early Sunday fire was a blessing in disguise.

“Looking back, it was the best thing that ever happened to us,” he said.

Expanded several times, the fish camp now seats more than 550 patrons. Presidents, governors, celebrities, generals and college football coaches have eaten there, and it is one of the most in-demand meeting places in the tri-county due to its seating capacity and great food.


Giving back

Until the 1980s, the Lancaster Police and Fire departments shared a common building on Main Street beside the county courthouse. Back then, Edwards came by the station with fish camp leftovers for firefighters and police officers every Friday and Saturday night.

“They’d let us know and we’d stop by about midnight and get some fish,” said former Sheriff Williford Faile. “Firemen and officers always had a special place with Bobby. He really cared.”

Edwards, he said, leaves a legacy of public and private giving that’s hard to match.

Faile recalled another time when Edwards, a former city councilman, got word about a woman with some serious medical issues who could not afford treatment.

“I don’t know how he found out, but he did and paid for all these real expensive shots she needed,” Faile said. “He was a good man in every sense. He said he would do it with the understanding that nobody ever find out it was him, and I don’t think they ever did.”


Charleston Southern

Edwards was a deacon at Glenwood Baptist Church for more than 50 years. He also served on the board at Charleston Southern University for two decades, including 10 years as board chair.

CSU President Jairy Hunter, who is also from Lancaster, said Friday that Edwards understood the importance of promoting “academic excellence in a Christian environment.”

Edwards, he said, led multiple fundraising efforts to grow the campus while supplying scholarships for students in Christian education. 

“Bob will always be remembered for his faithfulness to the Lord and the positive impact on the lives of everyone around him,” Hunter said. “He encouraged me to look for the best in everyone, and he was a man of his word. The CSU family will surely miss Bob Edwards in the days ahead.”

Edwards was married to Margaret Joyner Edwards for 60 years until her death, and then to Nancy Stacks Edwards for the past three years. In addition to his wife, survivors include a son, Dr. Malcolm Edwards of Lancaster, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


Chester County and Fort Lawn leaders remember Edwards

Chester County leaders also marked the passing of Edwards. The Catawba Fish Camp shared a unique location that was attracted patrons from both Fort Lawn and Lancaster.

“It’s with Sadness to hear of the passing of Mr. Bobby Edwards,” said Chester County Supervisor Shane Stuart in an email.

“Bobby helped build one of the most popular and well known restaurants in the state and nation, the Catawba Fish Camp. His leadership helped put Chester County on the map. We offer our sincerest condolences his family for their loss.”

Chester County Councilman Brad Jordan (the Fish Camp is in his district) is related to Edwards. Jordan recalls that Edwards was his first employer; Jordan was a carhop at the restaurant starting about age 12 and on into high school.

“He was a great guy, and a great guy to work for. He gave a lot of Chester County kids their first opportunity to work, working at the Fish Camp,” Jordan said.

“The Town of Fort Lawn has lost a good, kind and gracious friend.  Mr. Bobby Edwards, Proprietor of the Catawba Fish Camp located just outside of the Town limits, operated the restaurant for many years.  He will be missed,” said Fort Lawn Mayor John Rumford in an email comment.

“Bobby was an employer who benefitted many people in Fort Lawn, often young ones, working in his restaurant.  Serving as car-hops, cooks, servers, cashiers or many other positions that gave them employment and income.  My son worked with Bobby many years.  One of my current staff members worked at the Fish Camp for Bobby in the 1980’s.

“The restaurant became known far and wide.  Many would drive long distances to savor the fish, shrimp, and chicken.  The food was always good.  The restaurant thrived under Bobby’s ownership.

“Bobby was a community minded person.  Not only a good neighbor, when there was a death in the Town there would often be a delivery of Fish Camp food.  The Fort Lawn Dixie Youth baseball teams would often be treated to chicken dinner.  He assisted with and supported community activities.

“From a personal perspective I have lost a friend.  Bobby was my wife’s cousin.  He grew up in Fort Lawn with he and seven other brothers and sisters.  The boys were military oriented serving at various times in different branches of the service.

“Bobby never forgot Fort Lawn.  He was one who returned much to Fort lawn and our people.  We trust that his legacy will be remembered as a friend, successful businessman and neighbor of ours.”



N&R reporter Brian Garner contributed to this story.