Benjamin F. Edwards 3d, who led the former St. Louis-based A.G. Edwards & Sons for 34 years, during which the firm expanded from a local brokerage to a regional powerhouse with a national reputation and top 10-ranked public finance business, died Monday of prostate cancer at the age of 77.

Mr. Edwards took over in 1967 as president of the firm founded by his great-grandfather. It employed a few hundred brokers working out of 44 offices at the time. He steadily built the firm's base into a St. Louis behemoth that employed 5,000 locally and a total of 7,000 brokers in hundreds of offices across the country when he retired in 2001. The firm ranked ninth among senior managers nationally for 2001, leading $5.5 billion of deals.

After his retirement, the firm's board handed the reins of the brokerage to Robert Bagby over Mr. Edwards' son, Benjamin F. "Tad" Edwards 4th.

The well-liked and respected elder Edwards has been described as a hands-on and personable manager who adhered to "old school" ways in dealing with clients and employees in a down-to-earth manner. He was also active in local civic activities, serving on the boards of a handful of local higher education, health care, and other nonprofit organizations.

Mr. Edwards was staunchly opposed to the board's decision to sell the firm to North Carolina-based Wachovia Corp. in 2007. The firm has since been acquired by Wells Fargo & Co.

During his tenure, Mr. Edwards did make two political missteps that impacted the firm's public finance business. He made contributions in 2000 to Republican Jim Talent, who was running for governor in Missouri, and to the re-election campaign of then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in 1998. Each triggered two-year regulatory bans on the firm doing business with those states.

Mr. Edwards, a graduate of Princeton University who also served as a naval officer, is survived by his wife of 56 years, Joan Moberly Edwards, two sons, two daughters, two sisters, and 11 grandchildren.

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