For other people named Elizabeth Edwards, see Elizabeth Edwards (disambiguation).
Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards (July 3, 1949 – December 7, 2010) was an American attorney, a best-selling author and a health care activist. She was married to John Edwards, the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina who was the 2004 United StatesDemocratic vice-presidential nominee.
Edwards lived a private life until her husband's rise as senator and ultimately unsuccessful vice presidential and presidential campaigns. She was his chief policy advisor during his presidential bid, and was instrumental in pushing him towards more liberal stances on subjects such as universal health care. She was also an advocate of gay marriage and was against the war in Iraq, both topics about which she and her husband disagreed.
In the final years of her life, Edwards publicly dealt with her husband's admission of an extramarital affair and her breast cancer, writing two books and making numerous media appearances. She separated from John Edwards in early 2010. On December 6, 2010, her family announced that her cancer had spread and her doctors had recommended that further treatment would be unproductive. She died the following day.
Mary Elizabeth Anania was the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Thweatt Anania (1923–2012) and Vincent Anania (1920–2008). She grew up in a military family, moving many times and never having a hometown. Her father, a United States Navypilot, was transferred from military base to military base during her childhood and adolescence; for part of her childhood, she lived in Japan, where her father was stationed. She relates in her book Saving Graces that one of the difficult relocations that she went through was moving during her senior year of high school. Some of her childhood friends' fathers were killed in war and Edwards relates childhood memories of attending their funerals. She also relates the stress of living at a military base with hospital facilities that handled a constant stream of wounded soldiers while her father was away fighting in Vietnam.
Edwards had two younger siblings: a brother, Jay Anania, a professor of film at New York University and a sister, Nancy Anania. Edwards graduated from the Francis C. Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, then attended Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), where she earned a Bachelor's degree. After three years of postgraduate studies in English, she entered UNC's School of Law and earned a Juris Doctor.
Edwards began her career as a law clerk for a federal judge, then moved to Nashville, Tennessee, in 1978 to become an associate at the law firm of Harwell Barr Martin & Sloan. In 1981, she and her husband moved their family to Raleigh, where she worked in the Office of the Attorney General, and at the law firm Merriman, Nicholls, and Crampton. She kept the last name Anania until 1996, when she retired from legal practice upon the death of her son and changed her name to Elizabeth Anania Edwards in Wade's memory. Much of her time after leaving legal practice was devoted to the administration of the Wade Edwards Foundation. She taught legal writing as an adjunct instructor at the University of North Carolina School of Law and worked as a substitute teacher in the Wake County Public Schools. In August 2009, she opened a furniture store in Chapel Hill.
In September 2006, Random House published her first book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, focusing on the ways in which various communities have helped her through the trials of her life, from her itinerant military childhood to the death of her son and her early bout with breast cancer. In May 2009, they published her second book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities, further discussing the return of her illness, the deaths of her father and son, the effect of these events on her marriage, her husband's infidelity, and the general state of health care in America. Both books are best-sellers.
During much of 2004, Edwards joined her husband and United States Democratic Presidential nominee John Edwards on the nationwide campaign trail. She took a similar role in her husband's 2008 presidential bid and was considered one of his closest advisers.
Edwards disagreed with her husband on the topic of same-sex marriage. She became a vocal advocate in 2007 when she stated: "I don't know why someone else’s marriage has anything to do with me. I'm completely comfortable with gay marriage."
On June 10, 2008, it was revealed that Edwards would be advising her husband's former rival and eventual Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, on healthcare issues. Her husband also endorsed Obama during the later stages of the 2008 primary season.
Edwards became a senior fellow at the American Progress Action Fund and testified to Congress about health care reform on their behalf.
Anania met John Edwards when they were both law students, and they married on July 30, 1977.
Early in their marriage, the couple had two children: Lucius Wade (known as Wade) (born 1979) and Catharine (known as Cate) (born 1982). Wade died at age 16 on April 4, 1996, when he lost control of his Jeep while driving from their home in Raleigh to the family's beach house near Wilmington. Three weeks before his death, Wade Edwards had been honored by First Lady Hillary Clinton at the White House as one of ten finalists in an essay contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Voice of America. Wade, accompanied by his parents and his sister, met North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. After Wade died, Helms entered his essay and his obituary into the Congressional Record. Wade was buried in Raleigh's Oakwod Cemetery, with a grave designed by Robert Mihaly.
Following Wade's death, Elizabeth and John decided to have more children, and she underwent fertility treatments. They had a daughter, Emma Claire (born 1998), and a son, John (known as Jack) (born 2000). After John's January 21, 2010 public admission that he fathered a child with a mistress named Rielle Hunter, Elizabeth legally separated from him, intending to file for divorce after North Carolina's mandatory one-year separation policy, though she later stated that they had no intention of divorcing unless one of them would want to remarry.
Illness and death
On November 3, 2004 (the day John Kerry conceded defeat in the 2004 U.S. presidential election), Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She later revealed that she discovered a lump in her breast while on a campaign stop few weeks earlier in Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the midst of the campaign. Edwards became an activist for women's health and cancer patients, and underwent oncology treatments. In a November 2006 comment on the Daily Kos website, Edwards stated that on her last visit, her oncologist said that cancer was not one of the things going on in her life.
At a March 22, 2007, press conference, John and Elizabeth announced that her cancer had returned, and that his campaign for the Presidency would continue as before. The announcement included the information that she was asymptomatic, and therefore that she expected to be an active part of the campaign.
Her doctor, Dr. Lisa Carey of the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, described the diagnosis as stage IV (metastatic) breast cancer with a spot in her rib and possibly her lung. In a March 25 interview on 60 Minutes, Edwards said that there was also a spot in her hip found on her bone scan. The Edwardses and Dr. Carey stressed that the cancer was not curable, but was treatable. In early April 2007, Edwards was informed that her cancer might be treatable with anti-estrogen drugs. "I consider that a good sign. It means there are more medications to which I can expect to be responsive," she told the Associated Press during a campaign stop with her husband in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. In a 2007 interview with Newsweek's Jonathan Alter, she said, "When I was first diagnosed, I was going to beat this. I was going to be the champion of cancer. And I don't have that feeling now. The cancer will eventually kill me. It's going to win this fight."
On December 6, 2010, Edwards' family announced that she had stopped cancer treatment after her doctors informed her that further treatment would be unproductive, because the cancer had metastasized to her liver. She had been advised she had several weeks to live. Her family members, including her estranged husband John, were with her. She posted her last message on Facebook:
"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human.
But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."
Edwards died the next day of metastatic breast cancer at home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by her family and friends; she was 61 years old. Her funeral, held at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, was open to the public and was attended by over 1,200 people, including North Carolina GovernorBeverly Perdue, Senators John Kerry and Kay Hagan, and Victoria Reggie Kennedy. Threats of protests by the anti-gay coalition led by Westboro Baptist Church attracted at least 300 local Raleigh residents prepared to counterprotest in support of the Edwards family, but only five Westboro protesters showed up and were kept blocks away. Elizabeth Edwards' marble monument was created by sculptor Robert Mihaly. She was interred with her son Wade in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.
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But to the Edwardses, their decision simply showed a sense of purpose and a lesson learned a decade ago from crushing pain: If you can’t control life, you can at least embrace it more urgently.
“We’ve been through the worst a couple can go through,” Mr. Edwards said in an interview. “So long as there’s something you can do that’s positive, there’s a chance. As long as there’s a chance, there’s something to hold on to.”
The desire, even the need, to push forward has come to define them. “Every married couple has a history, but they have the force of this gigantic history,” said Glenn Bergenfield, a friend since law school. “They’re both fighter pilots. You keep going. The important thing is the mission, the important thing is to keep going.”
When Opposites Attract
Arriving at the University of North Carolina law school in 1974, Johnny Edwards had all the upbeat confidence of a small-town football star. But he had working-class roots and had barely spent time in any city, and he was intimidated by his more worldly classmates — none more so than Elizabeth Anania, who sat a few rows in front of him in their civil-procedure class. She had “the blackest hair and fine light blue eyes,” he later wrote in his memoir.
Four years his senior, Ms. Anania was the daughter of a Navy pilot and had lived all over the United States and in Japan. Friends described the dinner table at the Anania household as the kind of intellectual forum where you learned to speak up or keep your head down. Moving every year or so had taught her to adapt fast.
“She was like the mayor of our little town,” Mr. Bergenfield recalled, organizing sports teams, fixing up couples, making friends for those too shy to do it themselves. “She was dazzling, beautiful and unafraid in class.”
She thought she had nothing in common with Mr. Edwards — “we listened to different music, we read different books,” she said. Still, Mr. Bergenfield recalled, “there was something in her mind about him. He was a little puzzling to her.”
For their first date, Mr. Edwards took her dancing at a local Holiday Inn — not, to her, a promising start. But his good-night kiss to her forehead touched her with its tenderness and restraint. She never dated anyone else again.
Thirty years after their wedding, they still have different tastes: she’s more poetry, he’s more Grisham, she’s more C-Span, he’s more ESPN. When a cable movie channel asked politicians to talk about their favorite movies in 2004, it was her idea to say “Dr. Strangelove,” Stanley Kubrick’s black comedy about nuclear holocaust, though Mr. Edwards had not seen it. But they complement one another: she obsesses over details, he sees the broad themes. He rallies a crowd, she learns the name of everyone in it.
And Mrs. Edwards, now 58, is her husband’s fiercest defender. An insomniac, she reads blogs and articles assiduously to see what people are saying about him, posting her rebuttals in the early morning hours. In campaign appearances this fall, she was still taking exception to a largely flattering profile of Mr. Edwards — headlined “The Accidental Populist” — that ran in The New Republic in January.
She plays bad cop to his good if she thinks the people working for him are not serving his best interests. His Senate staff joked that if he hated you but she loved you, you were fine, but if she hated you, no amount of love from the boss would be enough.
Mrs. Edwards plays down her role: “Somebody’s wife,” she calls herself in campaign appearances. But her popularity, and the reluctance of rival campaigns to respond to her comments because of her disease, has allowed her to say things that her husband — or any candidate — could not. Frustrated with the overwhelming news media interest in two Democratic rivals, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois and Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, she told one interviewer, “We can’t make John black, we can’t make him a woman.”
She was quoted at a luncheon sponsored by Ladies’ Home Journal saying that her choice to spend time with her children rather than practice law had made her happier than Mrs. Clinton — “I’m more joyful than she is” — then later criticized Mrs. Clinton for not being a vocal enough advocate for women.
Mr. Edwards says his wife cuts through “the fluff” in politics. “I trust her more than I trust anybody in the world,” he said. “She’s herself, and fearless. I don’t think she’s intimidated by or afraid of anything.”
For her part, Mrs. Edwards says that watching her husband as a candidate takes her back to their earliest days together: “It does sometimes remind me of when I first saw him, first listened to him talk about possibilities, and how completely charmed I was by his story and by his optimism.”
While she can be mercurial, he is grounding. “John brings a steadiness and a calm and a strength,” said Gwynn Winstead, a friend and neighbor who led the bereavement group the Edwardses attended after their son’s death. “And I don’t mean Elizabeth doesn’t have those things, but he gives them to her.”
He has immersed himself in the details of her medical care, much as he used to master the manuals of medical instruments that were at issue in his malpractice cases. Jennifer M. Palmieri, a former campaign adviser who is close to Mrs. Edwards, recalled accompanying her to a recent doctor’s appointment when her husband could not attend. As Mr. Edwards, on speakerphone, quizzed the doctor and then summed up the conclusions, Mrs. Edwards turned to Ms. Palmieri and said, “Now do you see why I don’t worry?”
A Dark Day: April 4, 1996
Politics did not interest the two young lawyers at the start of their careers. Mr. Edwards did not even vote in some elections, and they had intended to raise children and make a good living practicing law.
They embraced parenthood with near professionalism. They held weekly meetings with Wade and Cate, two years younger. Every year they invited hundreds of friends to a Christmas party at their house in Raleigh, with Mrs. Edwards cooking and dozens of children playing upstairs.
Mr. Edwards coached soccer, and his wife assisted, making sure every player had enough time on the field. She arranged her schedule as a bankruptcy lawyer to spend more time with her children in the afternoons. She sewed Halloween costumes for them and their friends.
Everything changed on April 4, 1996.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards and Cate were packing to spend Easter at their beach house on the North Carolina shore. Wade, a high school junior, had driven ahead with some friends. When Mrs. Edwards saw the trooper at the door, she knew instantly something was wrong.
“Tell me he’s alive,” she pleaded. But her son was dead.
His Jeep Grand Cherokee had fishtailed, then flipped, on a wind-whipped stretch of Interstate 40. He had not been drinking or speeding, and had been wearing a seat belt. The crash killed him instantly. The boy in the car with him escaped with minor injuries.
Wade was an honor student and an athlete, recalled as the boy other parents relied on to drive their children home from parties, the kid who left the popular table to eat lunch with someone sitting alone. And in the quiet after the funeral, his parents despaired.
Mrs. Edwards collapsed in a grocery aisle at the sight of his favorite soda, so her friends took over shopping for a while. Mr. Edwards stopped running because all his routes passed places that reminded him of Wade; friends finally found a forest where father and son had never gone. Both stopped working, and Cate pushed two chairs together in her parents’ bedroom and slept there for two years, until she was 16.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards grieved in different ways. She read the books on Wade’s senior year reading list aloud at his grave. She spent sleepless hours in online bereavement groups, seeking and offering solace. Feeling overwhelmed at restaurants, she would retreat to the restroom to run her fingers over a photograph of her boy. When she met strangers, she would tell them about him.
Mr. Edwards was quieter, friends recalled. The accident had shaken his guiding belief that if you worked hard and did things right, everything would work out. Such faith did not account for the unexpected death of a child.
Many marriages do not endure such a loss, but their ordeal drew the Edwardses closer.
“I often say two wet noodles can’t hold each other up, but John and Elizabeth were really able to grieve very personally and yet together,” Ms. Winstead said. “While each of them struggled, I don’t think their relationship ever struggled.”
Mr. Edwards said, “We clung to each other, and we got through it together.”
And together, they pushed forward, as they described it, “to parent Wade’s memory.”
They began planning a computer lab next to Wade’s high school. It seemed a fitting tribute; Wade had thought it unfair that many students did not have computers, when teachers gave extra points for papers that were typed instead of handwritten. Six months later — after hiring staff members, raising money and buying and renovating a building — the Wade Edwards Learning Lab opened.
Mr. Edwards went back to work. And, after asking Cate’s blessing to have more children, Mrs. Edwards, then 46, began giving herself hormone shots. The birth of Emma Claire Edwards, almost exactly two years after Wade’s death, would be a turning point. “That was really good for my parents, to be able to have love for another child again,” Cate said.
Mr. Edwards had just won the Democratic primary for the Senate. A few weeks before Wade’s death, the boy and his parents went to Washington because he had won a Voice of America essay contest. They had been given a tour of the White House by Mrs. Clinton and had met Senator Jesse Helms, the North Carolina Republican. Wade had remarked how good his father would be as a senator.
Friends say Mr. Edwards probably would have gone into politics even if Wade had lived. But his death provided a catalyst.
“When Wade died, I think John examined life and came to the conclusion that he wanted to try to paint with a broader brush and try to change the world not one family at a time, not one person at a time, but in bigger ways that would have more permanent and lasting effects,” said David Kirby, Mr. Edwards’s former law partner. “He sees what he does in his political career as a way to honor his son.”
An Open-Door Outlook
While some political families try to erect barriers between their personal and public lives, the Edwardses have actively torn them down. Mr. Edwards’s Senate staff learned a cardinal rule at the couple’s house: don’t knock, just come right in. “We don’t fight, we don’t walk around naked,” Mrs. Edwards explained to one staff member. “You don’t have to worry about walking in on something.”
When Mrs. Edwards learned that her cancer had returned and was treatable but not curable, she panicked, she wrote in her memoir, “at the thought that this cancer might take him out of the race.” She recalled turning to her husband and saying, “I want to see the children, and I want you to continue the campaign.”
Dealing simultaneously with cancer, two young children (the Edwardses have taken Emma Claire, 9, and Jack, 7, on the campaign trail and are home schooling them) and a presidential candidacy could strain many marriages. But friends and relatives say the couple seem determined to go on, no matter how demanding it can be.
Ms. Palmieri, who traveled with Mrs. Edwards the week after the announcement in March, said, “The first few days, it was, we’re going to go out and fight this every day. The fifth day, it’s we have to go out and fight this every day. It’s a hard place to live when you feel the pressure to live every day to the fullest.”
This fall, an NPR interviewer asked whether Mr. Edwards would be able to focus on the presidency if his wife’s illness took a turn for the worse. “If,” Mrs. Edwards interrupted, then recalled how Mr. Edwards had responded after Wade died. “He didn’t pull the covers over his head,” she said. “He can do more than one thing at one time, even when one of the things is incredibly devastating.”
In past campaigns, Mr. Edwards declined to talk about Wade, not wanting to appear to be exploiting his son’s death for political gain. Now, toughness in tragedy has become a central theme of his candidacy. An Edwards campaign television advertisement called “30 Years” featured Mrs. Edwards speaking into the camera about her husband’s strength: “It’s unbelievably important that in our president we have someone who can stare the worst in the face, and not blink.”
Mrs. Edwards’s illness has given the campaign more purpose, friends say. “I don’t think he’s running for Elizabeth, but it’s just, you have more urgency, a little more drive,” Mr. Kirby said.
The couple was taken aback by the criticism that followed their announcement that he would stay in the race. “Maybe It’s Time for Candidate to Be a Husband,” scolded one headline. Said another: “Don’t Do It, John Edwards.”
But the Edwardses say there was never really much question about what they would do. Their son’s death had taught them that they could control only a limited number of things in life, Mrs. Edwards said. “It made it harder for people on the outside to understand, but we didn’t have to walk through the same fire.”
In the hospital room after her diagnosis, Mr. Edwards had asked his wife to marry him again. They renewed their bond on July 30, their 30th anniversary, standing in their backyard before a small group of friends and relatives.
They wrote their own vows, describing what they meant to each other, how fused their lives had become. As Mr. Edwards started to speak his, he had to stop, overwhelmed with emotion. He paused for a long time, never taking his eyes off his wife.Continue reading the main story