Roots & Early Career

Jim Edgar was born on July 22, 1946 in Vinita, Oklahoma and was raised in Charleston, Illinois. The youngest of three boys, he was raised by his mother, Betty Edgar, after he lost his father to an automobile accident at the age of 7.

Betty Edgar worked hard as a clerk at Eastern Illinois University to support her family’s modest lifestyle. She also attended church regularly, and her fellow congregants became an extended family for young Jim. From her and from them came the lessons, sometimes spoken, often conveyed by example. Family. Decency. Compassion. Civility. Hard Work. Straightforwardness. Discipline. Core Values.

A Young Edgar smiles for the camera


His interest in politics dates back to the first grade when he ran the Eisenhower election campaign at his elementary school. His parents were Democrats, but Jim wanted Eisenhower to win. When he did, Jim Edgar became a Republican. Then in second grade, he was elected to class office and has been involved in politics ever since.

Education & Family

Jim Edgar graduated Charleston High School and attended Wabash College for one year before graduating from Eastern Illinois University in 1968 with a Bachelor of Arts in History

While at Eastern, Jim Edgar ran for and won his first elected office as Student Body President in 1967. He also met his wife at EIU, Brenda Smith from Anna, Illinois, with whom he raised their two children, Brad and Elizabeth.

Early Career

Edgar began serving the people of the State of Illinois in 1968. He served as a legislative intern with the staff of President Pro Tempore of the Illinois Senate W. Russell Arrington. Arrington was Edgar’s first and perhaps most influential mentor. He told Edgar, then an aide in his early 20’s, “We’re not here just to get re-elected. We’re here to solve problems.”

In 1976, Edgar ran for State Representative of the 53rd Legislative District and won. He was re-elected in 1978. Five months after Edgar’s 1978 re-election to the Illinois House (April 1979), Governor Jim Thompson named him to be his legislative director.

Two years later, when then-Secretary of State Alan Dixon moved to the U.S. Senate, Edgar was appointed to fill the vacancy in early 1981. In 1982 and 1986, Edgar won the office on his own and was the secretary of state until 1991.

The first elected governor of Illinois to graduate from a public university, Edgar was a frequent visitor to his alma mater, Eastern Illinois University. Here he is shown at EIU with daughter Elizabeth, wife Brenda, mother Betty, and brothers Tom and Fred the day after becoming Governor in 1991.