"My father's been a clown since his father had a heart attack when he was young," son Scott said of George W. Edwards Jr.

"He talked to one of the nurses. They gave him some of the garments," which made it seem that a clown had become a physician.

Or vice versa.

The year or the decade when Mr. Edwards tried to cheer up his hospitalized father is lost to memory, his son said in a phone interview.

But a website for Cooper University Hospital in Camden states that Mr. Edwards clowned there for the last 12 years. And over the years, fellow volunteers say, he helped turn out hospital clowns across the region.

On Thursday, May 26, Mr. Edwards, 84, a former Delaware County store owner, died of congestive heart failure at his Barrington home.

At some point, Mr. Edwards took the name Bumper "T" Clown - shortening Bumper The Clown - and in 2001 founded Bumper "T" Caring Clowns, which was incorporated in 2002 as a not-for-profit organization in New Jersey.

The group's website offers profiles of its hospital clowns, almost all in South Jersey and Southeastern Pennsylvania. One is in Florida, one in Maryland, and one in Washington state.

An organization with a wider reach is the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, which held its 24th annual national convention in Orlando in April. Then there is physician Hunter "Patch" Adams, whose use of humor with patients inspired the 1998 Robin Williams film Patch Adams.

"Since I was a child," said Scott Edwards, 52, "there were clown drawings on the walls" at his parents' home. Some were of circus clown Emmett Kelly and some of TV and film star Red Skelton, who sometimes portrayed a circus clown.

Mr. Edwards "was always intrigued" by clowning on the weekends while continuing his day jobs, his son said. "He did it on his own for many years.

"It was a niche that he enjoyed, visiting hospitals all the time."

Aviva Gorstein, a member of Mr. Edwards' organization, said in a phone interview, "We don't have to have a lot of jokes, because looking the way we do in a hospital . . . is the joke.

"We have a red nose and rosy cheeks . . . scrubs and a lab coat . . . and cute little badges."

After a patient agrees, a clown enters the room and, among other things, seems to test the funny bone in the patient's elbow and offers the patient a red sponge nose with some "silly little banter."

"We're not entertainers," Gorstein said. "We're visitors who remind patients they are more than just their disease."

Born in West Philadelphia, Mr. Edwards dropped out of high school to help support his parents. He served in the Navy in World War II.

In 1968, his son said, Mr. Edwards opened Ply Gems, which sold kitchen cabinets and countertops in Collingdale.

After a fire in 1971, Mr. Edwards reopened the business in Norwood, sold it in 1974, and worked for similar stores before retiring from the last one, in Chester, in 1994.

The site www.bumpertcaringclowns.com states that the Mid-Atlantic Clown Association named him its clown of the year for 1999, and the Rotary Foundation named him a Paul Harris Fellow in 2004.

The website of Shore Memorial Hospital in Somers Point, N.J., reports that his organization received the 2008 Governor's Volunteer Award in the Most Innovative category.

Besides his son Scott, Mr. Edwards is survived by his wife, Betty Ruth; sons George W. III and Jeffrey; daughters Susan Passeri and Marie; 12 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.

A visitation was set for 10 a.m. Saturday, June 18, at Ascension Lutheran Church, Fourth and Highland Avenues, Haddon Heights, before an 11 a.m. memorial service there.

Contact staff writer Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.