Florence Edwards, who graduated from Portland High School, served as a dentist in the Army after college and dental school. She grew up in a military family and saw the benefits of military service. “I wanted to make a living, plan for the future, not be in debt and travel – and the military was a great way,” she said. Courtesy of Florence Edwards

Growing up, Florence “Flo” Edwards, always knew that military service would be part of her life.

“Military experience is a family tradition, and my dad didn’t have any sons,” said Edwards, 42, of Portland.

Her father, Charles Edwards III, served in Vietnam with the Navy and went on to serve in every branch of the military except the Air Force. However, her step-grandfather, Clarence Dupres, had the Air Force covered as a Tuskegee Airman.

Flo Edwards at Medical Officer Basic Training at Fort Sam Houston in 2010. Courtesy of Florence Edwards

“I wanted to continue the tradition,” said Edwards. “I’m a civilian at heart but see the military as another facet of life. You know, in some countries, everyone serves for a year or two. I wanted to make a living, plan for the future, not be in debt and travel – and the military was a great way.”

She graduated from Portland High School, then Lake Forest College in Illinois, where she double-majored in biology and economics with a minor in classical studies. She shadowed a Portland periodontist, Dr. Donald Theriault, during her summers in Maine, then enrolled at Howard University College of Dentistry and served in the U.S. Army Reserves beginning in 2005. After graduating from dental school in 2009, Edwards joined the U.S. Army with a military occupational specialty of 64A, or general dentistry.

Her father’s advice, when she enlisted was: “As long as you know the rules, you should be fine.”


The rules in the era of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which ended in 2011, meant that Edwards needed to compartmentalize her life.

“I came out in high school and had never been a closeted person,” she said. “I didn’t think it was something I talked about a lot. But when you’re dating someone or living with someone, you might talk about your partner. And you don’t realize how much it is part of your life until you can’t talk about it. I’m pretty sure people suspected. But it was something that wasn’t spoken about.”

At the same time, Edwards loved doing on-base dentistry and thoroughly appreciated the importance of preventive care among soldiers.

Flo Edwards and Donna Ekart married in 2014. They both have volunteered with EqualityMaine, the nonprofit that advocates for full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Mainers. Here they vacation in Portugal in 2019. Courtesy of Florence Edwards

“If you have a toothache, you’re deployed and the base you’re at doesn’t have a dentist, you have to take not just you but your battle buddy to get to see the dentist while you’re in a theater of war,” she said. “So now there’s two people at risk traveling to get to a dentist. It’s better to be sure you take care of all that stuff before you leave.”

When her enlistment was up, Edwards found it wasn’t easy to leave Kansas – or, more precisely, to leave someone she’d met in Kansas. When Edwards moved back to Maine in 2013, Donna Ekart came with her, and they married the following year. In the years since, both have volunteered with EqualityMaine, a nonprofit that protects and advances full equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Mainers.

As a civilian, Edwards works for Catholic Charities Maine and has found that she enjoys nonprofit dentistry. When most people say that something is “like pulling teeth” they mean that it’s difficult. But not Edwards, who does plenty of extractions at the nonprofit’s Jessie Albert Dental & Orthodontic Center in Bath.


“I like extractions,” she said. “I found that I’m good at it and a lot of people aren’t. I figure I’ll lean into what the universe is saying.”

During the pandemic, Edwards testified via Zoom at meetings of the Portland and South Portland city councils regarding the dangers of flavored cigarettes. “You tend to inhale deeper because it’s flavored,” she said. “And that’s especially true with menthol, which numbs the area.”

In 2021, she received a Gold Star Champion award from Maine’s Breathe Easy campaign for promoting awareness about the impact of menthol-flavored cigarettes and e-cigarettes on gums and oral health. In 2022, both Portland and South Portland banned the sale of these products.

Flo Edwards regularly runs with her black lab Maybelline, who enjoys 5Ks, and her yellow lab Montgomery. Courtesy of Florence Edwards

Also during the pandemic, Edwards started a podcast called “In the Pocket: Conversations with BIPOC Mainers.” She has a free-form conversational approach to interviews, talking with entrepreneurs, artists and other interesting people.

“When Black people are asked to talk about stuff it’s too often to talk about struggles,” Edwards said. “This is about just living life.”

Edwards also was a co-producer of Samuel James’ 2022 podcast “99 Years,” described as “a Black exploration of the deliberate creation of the whitest state in the nation.”


She also finds time to create social commentary art. Her first installation piece, “Afro in Utero”– a sculpture made of nearly 100 afro hair picks forming the shape of a uterus – was commissioned by Space Gallery and exhibited at Mayo Street Arts in spring 2023.

“The way the light would shine through would create shadows on the walls as the sun rose and set in the room,” Edwards said.

Beyond the aesthetics, “Afro in Utero” encouraged conversations about the CROWN (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair) Acts – laws that protect against discrimination in employment and education based on a person’s hair texture or style – and the politics of controlling women’s reproduction.

Flo Edwards creates social commentary art. Her first installation piece “Afro in Utero”– a sculpture made of nearly 100 afro hair picks forming the shape of a uterus – was commissioned by Space Gallery and exhibited at Mayo Street Arts in spring 2023.  Courtesy of Florence Edwards

“I had dreadlocks when I was in college,” Edwards said, “and I remember talking with other Black women who were so concerned with what I was going to do with my hair, telling me that I couldn’t get a job with my locks. And, actually, research shows that Black women who don’t straighten their hair make less money.”

The U.S. Army doesn’t permit dreadlocks, although the grooming guidelines for Black women’s hair were revised in 2014 to no longer require a tight, disciplined bun. Either way, the sculpted Afro Edwards wears today simply wouldn’t fit under a U.S. Army beret.

“I can just be me,” she shrugged.

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