In Memory of Dennis Leroy Edge

March 16, 1938 September 1, 2023

By Clifford Conner

Dennis Leroy Edge, lifelong socialist and consummate bird photographer, died in Manhattan on September 1 after a year-long struggle against esophageal cancer. He was 85.

Dennis Edge and his long-lensed camera were a familiar presence in recent years in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Dennis was a passionate birder and bird photographer who became known to locals as “The Birdman” of Tompkins Square Park.

Dennis was born in New York City, but his family soon thereafter moved South. He grew up in North Carolina, attended college in Richmond, Virginia, and served in the Army from 1961 to 1963. He worked as a city planner in Atlanta, Georgia, and returned to the city of his birth in 1970, where he resided for the last fifty-three years of his life.

In his Atlanta years, in the 1960s, Dennis became active in the Civil Rights movement, and then in the movement against the Vietnam War. His political activism led him to become a socialist, which became a lifelong commitment. Dennis described his trajectory in a 2014 interview:

“I moved here [to New York] in the 1970s. When I moved here, it was the height of the Vietnam antiwar movement, and I was involved. I got involved politically with the antiwar movement in Atlanta, and they were good organizers, serious people, and convinced me to become a socialist. So, I did—I moved to New York as a member of the Socialist Workers Party. I worked in the national office of the Socialist Workers Party for a number of years—about ten years. We had a publishing arm [Pathfinder Press]. I did the book covers, and all the promotional material for the publishing company.”

After the war ended, Dennis parted ways with the Socialist Workers Party, but he never ceased to be an active socialist, environmentalist, and antiwar protestor. Meanwhile, he turned his attention to making a living:

“I became what I studied in school, graphic design, and I became a graphic designer. I worked at Lord & Taylor for a while, where I eventually met Lois, who is now my wife.”

Dennis and Lois shared a lifelong interest in the environment, art, and politics. They lived together for more than forty years and were married on Dennis’s 75th birthday, March 16, 2013. His narrative continues:

“We established a design studio. We worked as designers for a number of years, until I retired, about ten years ago. And then I became a birder.”

Dennis combined birdwatching with a great talent as a photographer to produce his masterpiece, Tompkins Square Park Birds. The magnificent book was published just weeks before his death. Fortunately, 28 advance copies were sent to him by air freight, and they arrived in time for him not only to see them, but to sign about twenty of the books.

Dennis is survived by his wife, Lois; his devoted niece, Joan; in North Carolina, by his sister, Faye Oxendine, her husband, Teddy, and their son, Terry.

A Personal Reminiscence

I met Dennis in a courtroom in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1968—fifty-five years ago. We had both been called to testify on behalf of some mutual friends who were challenging their eviction by a racist landlord. We were “sequestered” together for a couple of hours, which gave us an excellent opportunity to get to know each other. We found we shared political views in that profoundly political era—on the Vietnam War, the Black Liberation movement, the Prague Spring, and much more. He had recently read and admired a book by Marxist philosopher George Novack, and when I told him I knew George, and that he was going to be speaking in Atlanta in the near future, Dennis was delighted. Before long, Dennis had joined the socialist movement and soon thereafter was working full time for the movement’s publisher, Pathfinder Press. Dennis was a talented artist and graphic designer, and he designed many a beautiful cover for Pathfinder’s books.

That was several years before I had met Marush and Dennis had met Lois, but once we were paired off with our respective soulmates, the four of us became the closest of friends. We all travelled together frequently, beginning with a magical trip through Mexico in 1983. In later years, we visited Italy, France, England, and South Africa together, in addition to U.S. destinations including Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas. We covered a lot of ground!

Ten years ago, in March 2013, when Dennis and Lois decided to get married and asked me to be their Best Man, I considered it the greatest honor of my life.