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Toledo family honors matriarch, her passion and her fights for justice and against breast cancer

The former Toledo Fair Housing Center investigator’s work set a legal precedent. Toledo's 2021 Komen Race for the Cure is in memory of Nellie Edwards.

TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo's Race for the Cure features an area family that says it found strength in the loss of its leader.

Nellie Edwards was 69 when she lost her battle with breast cancer in 2014. But the family says what she did with her short time was more than most people do in a lifetime.

Her granddaughter, Shalonda Johnson, says, "She was a hero. Even after she passed away - she was still our hero. And her fight was our fight. And she is going to continue to live on - through us."

It's been seven years since Nellie Edwards' family had to say goodbye to their matriarch. But this weekend's Race for the Cure renewed their spirit in who she was and what she meant to them.

"You know, you don't focus so much on that last day that you saw them," her husband Willie Edwards said. "You think about the lives that they lived, and that's what we're celebrating here."

You may not know the name Nellie Edwards, but the rest of the country knows of her work. She spent nearly 30 years at the Toledo Fair Housing Center. And in that time, she received the center's Enforcement-Litigation Award for her work that set national precedents.

In fact, in one case, sexual harassment by a landlord was found to be a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act.

"To this day - even though that was many years ago - that case is still being used in litigations - in court litigations for sexual harassment," Willie said.

And that caught the attention of the rest of her family.

"I couldn't believe that at first," granddaughter Shalonda Johnson said. "Even with this interview, there's a lot of things that I'm still learning about her professional background that I didn't know before. So, it's amazing what she's done for everybody."

Credit: Family of Nellie Edwards

Nellie Edwards was a student, earning a master's Degree.

She was a teacher at a number of Toledo Public Schools, not to mention at Sunday School each week.

And, the family points out that it's not every day when politicians stop to recognize who you were and what you meant to so many. 

They say U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur did just that with a proclamation after Edwards' death. 

So did U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown.

"She was very instrumental in helping many people and the people that were losing their homes and different things like that, or were applying for homes and were being discriminated against," her husband Willie said. "She was instrumental in helping those people to be able to be housed."

The family also points out that Edwards was selfless, always doing something for somebody else.

"I guess my favorite thing about her was that she had a different relationship with all of us," Johnson said. "But she loved us all equally."

Credit: Family of Nellie Edwards

Stories about Sunday dinners and great desserts brought smiles to all of their faces.

And when Grandma Nellie died, the grandkids wrote a poem. In one part they wrote, "Our family chain is broken, and nothing seems the same ... But as God calls us one by one ... the chain will link again."

That bond will bring them to the streets of Toledo this weekend, as it does for so many, with each step in support of who she was, what she did, and why they honor her memory.

Credit: Family of Nellie Edwards

RELATED: Race for the Cure FAQ | Findlay & Toledo

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