Clarence Edwards was many things – civil rights activist, political consultant, railroad worker, race car driver – but he also knew how to brighten the day for those who needed cheering up.

For three or so years, Edwards bought 12 dozen roses and distributed them to widows in his North Shore, Miami, community on Valentine’s Day.

On one of those occasions, Edwards saw a 5-year-old girl walking on the street. He stopped his car next to her and gave her a bunch of roses and, as his wife Yvonne Edwards recalls, he told the girl, “Remember, I was the first man who gave you roses.”

Last weekend, the girl, now 15, heard the news that Edwards had died and she remembered, telling Yvonne Edwards, “He was the first man to give me flowers.”

“He loved the community. He loved all of Dade County. He did unselfish things for unselfish reasons,” Yvonne Edwards said.

Clarence Leonard Edwards died at home Saturday at age 81 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease which he battled for five years, his wife said.

Yvonne Edwards also recalled the time when a mother approached her husband to tell him her son was unable to keep a job.

“Clarence told her he would get him a job and make sure he kept it,” she said.

Edwards, then working as chief of on-board services with Amtrak, got the son a job and, according to Yvonne Edwards, he is still at it 35 years later.

“He was just a phenomenal, awesome, loving man,” said Yvonne Edwards, who was married to Edwards for 22 years.

Edwards was born in Jacksonville to Ned and Ruby Edwards and from an early age got a taste of political activism when he joined his mother on her voter-education drive.

He was also an early starter in business, opening his first boiled peanuts stand at age 6.

He attended Edward Waters College in Jacksonville and moved to Miami at age 20 and lived in the Overtown community.  There, he made contact with community leaders and elected officials. He also met and married his first wife, Olivia Love.

Edwards served in the U.S. Amy in the Korean War and, on his return home, he and Olivia began community organizing, voter registration and mentoring youth.

They also opened Richmond Heights Drugs Inc. in South Miami-Dade that became a gathering place for youths for 35 years until Hurricane Andrew destroyed the building in 1992.

Edwards also had a spell as a race car driver, competing in Daytona Beach, Fernandina and Sebring, as well as in Europe, in his signature red Austin Healey, with an all-black racing team.

After 38 years of marriage, Olivia died in 1989 and Edwards remarried, to Yvonne, their union lasting  until his death.

Edwards’ resume shows an impressive list of national political figures for whom he worked in one capacity or other, including Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Jimmy  Carter, along with Congressmen Dante Fascell, William Lehman and Claude Pepper, Gov. Leroy Collins, Dade State Attorney and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, state Rep. Gwendolyn Cherry and M. Athalie Range, pacesetting state and local official.

Edwards’ other survivors include daughter Cheryl Edwards; stepdaughters, Elizabeth Clagon and Andrea Roach; stepson, the Rev. Johnson Richardson; sisters, Claretha Books, Altamese Alston and Richardean Milton; and grandson, Oliver Ellison.

The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 2, at Range Funeral Home, 5727 N.W. 17th Ave., Miami. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at Christ the King Catholic Church, 16000 S.W. 112th Ave., South Miami-Dade, followed by interment at Woodlawn South cemetery.

Photo: Clarence Edwards