Benjamin Edwards III, former chairman, CEO, and president A.G. Edwards , died Monday at his home in Naples, Fla., after a battle with cancer, reports the St. Louis Business Journal. Edwards, 77, was the great-grandson of the company’s founder, Albert Gallatin Edwards, and led the former regional for 45 years before retiring in 2001 and assuming the title of chairman emeritus.

Many legacy A.G. Edwards advisors, who were acquired by Wachovia Securities in 2007 and Wells Fargo in 2008, are big fans of the man. On Registered Rep.’s advisor forum, some legacy reps report that Edwards was the down-to-earth creator of the regional’s original “home-town” culture. “Ben Edwards did amazing things when he was at the helm of AGE,” writes one advisor on the forum, who says meeting Edwards in high school helped him decide to join the firm. “He really represented the culture at AGE that died when Wachovia bought them out. He gave a very impassioned speech to the shareholders urging them to vote against that merger. Even he couldn’t make an argument that would stand up to the cash.”

Wachovia acquired A.G. Edwards for $6.8 billion in 2007 (a move Edwards and many AGE reps opposed), and Wachovia was acquired by Wells Fargo in a $15.1 billion all-stock deal last October. According to a recent radio interview with Edwards on St. Louis’s Charlie Brennan Show on KMOX, Edwards received a standing ovation at the 2007 A.G. Edwards shareholder meeting when he questioned the Wachovia acquisition, calling it “devastating news.”

Edwards was also against the selection of Robert Bagby as his successor at the helm of the regional b/d. In a December interview with the St. Louis Business Journal Edwards said, “I enjoyed working with Bob for years, and I think he’s very good in the branch area, but he is not your answer for my job.” Indeed Bagby (who retired from the brokerage last May), received significant flack from legacy AGE reps when he put the firm up for sale.
After graduating from Princeton and serving in the U.S. Navy, Edwards became the firm’s managing partner in 1966 and was named president in 1967 at the age of 33. During Edwards’ tenure, A.G. Edwards grew from 44 offices and 300 financial consultants in 1965 to nearly 700 offices and 7,000 financial consultants when he retired eight years ago. During the same period, the firm’s equity capital soared from $3.5 million in 1965 to $1.6 billion in 2001.