Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate, succumbs to cancer at 61

December 8th, 2010 by Staff

Source: Seattle Times — Elizabeth Edwards, who as the wife of former Sen. John Edwards gave America an intimate look at a candidate’s marriage by sharing his quest for the 2008 presidential nomination as she struggled with incurable cancer and, secretly, with his infidelity, died Tuesday. She was 61.

Her family confirmed the death, saying Mrs. Edwards was surrounded by relatives when she died at her Chapel Hill, N.C., home. A family friend said John Edwards was present. Two family friends said Monday that Mrs. Edwards’ cancer had spread to her liver and that doctors had advised against further medical treatment.

She posted a Facebook message to friends the same day, saying, “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.”

“The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that,” she added.

Mrs. Edwards spent much of her life as a little-known lawyer and mother. That changed when her husband became a U.S. senator, presidential candidate and Democratic nominee for vice president, propelling her into the spotlight as a smart, plain-spoken wife and key adviser to her husband.

She later became a figure of sympathy as she battled breast cancer and dealt with her husband’s infidelity. Her public image shifted again in recent years: the scorned woman whose husband fathered a child with another woman.

She and John Edwards separated early this year but remained close.

Through it all, Mrs. Edwards helped change the way political wives were viewed. She was the self-proclaimed “anti-Barbie,” comfortable sitting in on campaign meetings, chatting with Oprah Winfrey or going head-to-head with conservative columnist Ann Coulter.

“I’m 5 feet 2, dark-haired and could hardly be further from the Barbie figure,” she once said. “I think of myself as a fairly serious person.”

As John Edwards’ closest adviser and surrogate, she reviewed his television advertisements and major speeches, helped pick his lieutenants, joined internal debates over tactics and strategy and sometimes dressed down, or even forced out, aides she believed had failed her husband. An unflattering portrait of her political role, based mainly on unnamed sources, was presented in January in “Game Change,” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

The first of three children, Elizabeth Anania was born July 3, 1949, in a naval air station in Jacksonville, Fla.

Her father, Vincent Anania, a first-generation Italian American, was an All-America lacrosse player at the U.S. Naval Academy. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1959 after bringing home a spy plane hit 15 times by North Korean MiGs.

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As a Navy brat, Elizabeth Edwards grew up at military installations around the world, including two tours in Japan. Her mother hired a trained geisha, a badly scarred survivor of Hiroshima, to teach her daughters Japanese dance and music and how to comport themselves with grace.

She graduated from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and spent two years pursuing a doctorate in English literature and a teaching career. But job prospects for English graduates were poor, and she entered UNC’s law school.

There, she met Johnny Edwards, three years her junior.

He was the pseudo redneck who had been out of the South once — on a trip to Washington, D.C. She was a devotee of Henry James and a politically active liberal Democrat.

He was the soft-spoken, get-along guy. She was an outspoken, hot-tempered Italian American. She also was regarded as more of a catch, drawing the attention of many young men.

They were married days after they graduated and passed the bar exam. She kept her last name until her husband prepared to run for the Senate.

While John Edwards had the high-powered legal career, their marriage was one of intellectual equals. She became his most trusted adviser in both law and politics while balancing her career with the demands of rearing two children — Wade, born in 1979, and Cate, born in 1982.

She still practiced law, working as a bankruptcy lawyer, in the state Attorney General’s Office, and as an instructor at the UNC law school.

She also was a soccer mom, hauling coolers of soft drinks to her children’s soccer games. One Halloween, she dressed Wade and eight other children as a nine-hole golf course.

Life took a dark turn in 1996 when Wade, 16, was killed in an automobile accident. The couple were crippled emotionally. John Edwards stopped working for six months, and she quit practicing law for good.

They left their son’s room unchanged for years, a capped, half-finished bottle of Gatorade left on the bedside table along with his papers and 11th-grade textbook. She would read to her son at the gravesite and lie down on his grave to be close to him.

“The intensity of that pain is greater than any emotion I ever had,” she wrote in her best-selling memoir, “Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers.” “Not love, not fear, not wonder. The greatest of all is pain.”

The couple found religion, moved into politics and began a second family.

At 48, Mrs. Edwards had a daughter, Emma Claire. At 50, she had Jack.

She was pregnant with Emma Claire when her husband ran for the Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.

Mrs. Edwards was a sounding board for her husband for nearly a decade as he climbed the ladder, culminating in his selection as the Democratic vice-presidential running mate of Sen. John Kerry in 2004.

She was popular on the campaign trail, seen as someone approachable, less glamorous and more down to earth than her husband.

Mrs. Edwards then learned she had a breast tumor the size of a half-dollar on the day after Election Day 2004, when the Democratic ticket — Kerry and her husband — lost to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.

Radiation and chemotherapy appeared to put the cancer into remission, but, with her husband again chasing a presidential nomination, this time against Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Edwardses disclosed in March 2007 that her cancer had returned.

They said it was malignant and in an advanced stage, having spread into her ribs, hip bones and lungs. It was treatable but “no longer curable,” John Edwards explained.

However, he said he would continue his bid for the presidency, and Mrs. Edwards said she, too, would go on with the campaign. “I don’t expect my life to be significantly different,” she declared.

Not everyone approved of their decision. Some believed they were in denial, or wondered if they were letting political ambitions outweigh their family’s needs.

When CBS News anchor Katie Couric reminded her, “You’re staring at possible death,” Mrs. Edwards’ reply: “Aren’t we all, though?”

She was the most outspoken of the candidates’ wives. When Coulter, the conservative commentator, used a gay slur to describe John Edwards and suggested he should have been killed by terrorists, Mrs. Edwards called a TV program to confront her.

In the end, the Edwardses’ seven-year quest for the White House did not succeed. With Obama and Clinton dominating the 2008 Democratic primaries, John Edwards could find little room. He dropped out after the South Carolina primary in January.

All the while, their marriage was unraveling. Despite their public image as a tightly knit couple, John Edwards had an affair with Rielle Hunter, a younger woman who had worked as a videographer on his campaign. Mrs. Edwards later said she had learned of the affair before her husband announced his candidacy.

He acknowledged the affair publicly seven months after dropping out of the race, but denied he was the father of Hunter’s baby. He said he had told his wife about the affair in late 2006 and had broken off with Hunter.

Mrs. Edwards did not appear on TV with her husband, but she issued a statement saying she stood by him.

Friends said Mrs. Edwards chose to continue in her marriage, in part for the sake of the children. The couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary by renewing their wedding vows in a backyard ceremony in July 2007.

In January, another bombshell: John Edwards admitted paternity of Hunter’s daughter. The Edwardses acknowledged they had separated.

The couple, friends say, remained close.

Mrs. Edwards made several appearances to talk about health-care issues. She hinted at the strains on her marriage.

“There’s a lot of adjustments to make,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “When you mention trust, that’s probably the most difficult hurdle.”


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