Elizabeth Edwards

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Elizabeth Edwards
Elizabeth Edwards in Ames, Iowa (2158013445) (1).jpg
Edwards in 2008
Mary Elizabeth Anania

(1949-07-03)July 3, 1949
DiedDecember 7, 2010(2010-12-07) (aged 61)
EducationUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of North Carolina School of Law
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1977; sep. 2010)
Children4, including Cate

Mary Elizabeth Anania Edwards (July 3, 1949 – December 7, 2010) was an American attorney, author, and health care activist. She was married to John Edwards, the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina who was the 2004 United States Democratic 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,[1] and was instrumental in pushing him towards more liberal stances on subjects such as universal health care.[1] She was also an advocate for gay marriage[2] and was against the war in Iraq,[1] both topics about which she and her husband disagreed.[1]

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.[3][4] She separated from John Edwards in early 2010.[5] On December 6, 2010, her family announced that her cancer had spread and that her doctors had stated that further treatment would be unproductive. She died the next day.[6]

Early life[edit]

Mary Elizabeth Anania was born in 1949, the daughter of Mary Elizabeth Thweatt Anania (1923–2012) and Vincent Anania (1920–2008).[7] She grew up in a military family, moving many times and never having a hometown. Her father, a United States Navy pilot, 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 wrote in her book Saving Graces that one of the difficult relocations that she went through was moving during her senior year of high school.[8] Some of her childhood friends' fathers were killed in war, and Edwards recalled childhood memories of attending their funerals.[9] She also wrote about the stress of living on a military base and seeing a constant stream of wounded soldiers while her father was away fighting in Vietnam.[10]

Edwards had two younger siblings:[11] a brother, Jay Anania, a professor of film at New York University[12] and a sister, Nancy Anania.[13] 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.

Professional life[edit]

Edwards began her career as a judicial law clerk for a federal judge. She 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,[14] when she retired from the practice of law following the death of her son Wade; she changed her name to Elizabeth Anania Edwards in his memory. Following her retirement from law, she devoted much of her time to the administration of the Wade Edwards Foundation.[15] 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.[16]

In September 2006, Random House published her first book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers,[3] which focused on the ways different 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, Random House published her second book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities,[4] in which she discussed the return of her illness, the deaths of her father and son and the effect of those events on her marriage, her husband's infidelity, and the state of healthcare in America.[17][18] Both books were bestsellers.

Political activity[edit]

During much of 2004, Edwards joined her husband, United States Democratic Vice Presidential nominee John Edwards, on the campaign trail. She took a similar role in her husband's 2008 presidential bid, and was 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."[19]

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.[20] 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 before Congress about healthcare reform on its behalf.[21]

Personal life[edit]

Anania met John Edwards when they were both law students, and they married on July 30, 1977.[22]

Early in their marriage, the couple had two children: Lucius "Wade"[23] (b. 1979) and Catharine "Cate" (b. 1982). Wade died at age 16 on April 4, 1996, when he lost control of his Jeep and crashed while driving from their home in Raleigh to the family's beach house near Wilmington.[24] Three weeks before his death, Wade 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.[23] Wade was buried in Raleigh's Oakwood Cemetery, with a grave designed by Robert Mihaly.[25]

Following Wade's death, Elizabeth and John decided to have more children, and she underwent fertility treatments.[26] They had a daughter, Emma Claire (b. 1998), and a son, John "Jack" (b. 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.[27][28][29][30]

Illness and death[edit]

On November 3, 2004, Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She later revealed that she discovered a lump in her breast while on a campaign stop a 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.[31]

At a March 22, 2007 press conference,[32] 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.[33]

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.[34] The Edwardses and Carey stressed that the cancer was not curable, but was treatable.[32][35] 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.[36] 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."[37]

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.[38]

Edwards died the next day of metastatic breast cancer at home in Chapel Hill; she was 61 years old.[39] 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 Governor Beverly Perdue, Senators John Kerry and Kay Hagan,[40] and Victoria Reggie Kennedy.[41] 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.[41][42] Elizabeth Edwards' marble monument was created by sculptor Robert Mihaly.[43] She was interred with her son Wade in Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

See also[edit]


  • Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, ISBN 978-0-7679-2538-9, Broadway Books 2006
  • Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities , ISBN 978-0-7679-3156-4, Broadway Books 2009


  1. ^ a b c d Sullivan, Patricia (December 7, 2010). "Lived her private pain on a public stage". The Washington Post. p. A01. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  2. ^ Evans, Vanessa (December 8, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards Supported Gay Marriage and Equality". Yahoo News contributor. Archived from the original on December 12, 2010. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Edwards, Elizabeth (September 2006). Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers. Random House. ISBN 978-0-7679-2537-2.
  4. ^ a b Edwards, Elizabeth (2009). Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities. Random House. ISBN 978-0-7679-3136-6.
  5. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards says she's separated from John". USA Today. January 27, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Helen (December 7, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards, 61, dies after battle with cancer, surrounded by family, estranged husband John". New York Daily News. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
  7. ^ Thursby, Keith (December 7, 2010). "Obituary: Elizabeth Edwards dies at 61; wife of Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  8. ^ Saving Graces, pp. 165–166.
  9. ^ Resilience, p. 13.
  10. ^ Resilience, p. 25.
  11. ^ Saving Graces, p. 27.
  12. ^ Resilience, p. 174.
  13. ^ Baker, Mike; Woodward, Calvin (December 7, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards dies". Associated Press via WSLS-10TV. Retrieved December 10, 2010.[dead link]
  14. ^ Ellen Hawkes. "Elizabeth Edwards, The Strategist". Ms. Magazine. Archived from the original on December 11, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  15. ^ "Wade Edwards Foundation website". Wade.org. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  16. ^ "Edwards opens furniture store: Elizabeth Edwards is now a business owner". Chapel Hill, NC: abc11.com. August 23, 2009. Archived from the original on June 28, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  17. ^ Martelle, Scott (May 8, 2009). "'Resilience' by Elizabeth Edwards". Los Angeles Times.
  18. ^ Hitchens, Christopher (September 2009). "The Pain of Elizabeth Edwards". The Atlantic. Retrieved December 7, 2010.
  19. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards strays on gay marriage". NBC News. January 5, 2011. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  20. ^ Sargent, Greg (June 9, 2008). "TPM Election Central | Talking Points Memo | Obama Says He's Partnering With Elizabeth Edwards On Health Care". Tpmelectioncentral.talkingpointsmemo.com. Archived from the original on July 16, 2011. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  21. ^ Cillizza, Chris. "On the Hill, Elizabeth Edwards Calls Attention to Medical Bankruptcies". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  22. ^ Saving Graces, p. 342.
  23. ^ a b "LUCIUS WADE EDWARDS July 18, 1979 – April 4, 1996". Archived from the original on September 28, 2007. Retrieved May 21, 2008.
  24. ^ Zajac, Andrew (July 7, 2004). "Edwards' bittersweet history: Kerry's choice comes with a rags-to-riches story that's marked by tragedy". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved January 30, 2007.
  25. ^ The Charlotte Observer, "Soaring Success, Crushing Loss" Anna Griffin, August 19, 2003
  26. ^ Mcfadden, Robert D. (December 8, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards Dies of Cancer at 61". The New York Times. Retrieved December 8, 2010.
  27. ^ Myers, Lisa; Austin, Michael (January 21, 2010). "Edwards admits fathering child with mistress". MSNBC. Archived from the original on January 23, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010.
  28. ^ "Edwards Admits Fathering Love Child, Reportedly Separates From Wife". Fox News. January 21, 2010. Archived from the original on July 28, 2010. Retrieved December 20, 2010.
  29. ^ Cowan, Richard; Holland, Steve (January 27, 2010). "Politician John Edwards and wife separate". Reuters. Retrieved July 4, 2010.
  30. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards tells her sister: 'I've had it.'". USA Today. January 27, 2010. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  31. ^ "Edwards posting". Daily Kos blog. November 20, 2006.
  32. ^ a b "Transcript of Former Sen. Edwards News Conference on Wife's Health". The Washington Post. March 22, 2007. Retrieved March 27, 2007.
  33. ^ Pickler, Nedra (March 22, 2007). "Edwards presses on with 2008 campaign". Yahoo.com. Archived from the original on March 28, 2007. Retrieved March 22, 2007.
  34. ^ Couric, Katie (March 25, 2007). "Exclusive:John and Elizabeth Edwards, Edwards Open About Cancer, Unconditional About Couple's Decision On Presidential Run". 60 Minutes. CBS. Retrieved March 28, 2007.
  35. ^ Jill Lawrence and, Rita Rubin (March 22, 2007). "For Elizabeth Edwards, a public battle for her life". USA Today. Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  36. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards Gets a 'Good Sign'". People. April 4, 2007.
  37. ^ Alter, Jonathan (April 9, 2007). "Elizabeth Edwards: 'I'm Not Praying for God to Save Me'". Newsweek. Retrieved December 9, 2010.
  38. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards stops cancer treatment, releases statement". CNN. December 6, 2010.
  39. ^ "Elizabeth Edwards dies". WRAL News. December 7, 2010.
  40. ^ Dolak, Kevin (December 11, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards' Funeral: Family, Friends Attended Memorial". ABC News. USA. Retrieved May 1, 2011.
  41. ^ a b Severson, Kim (December 12, 2010). "Elizabeth Edwards Eulogized as Defender of Her Family". The New York Times. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  42. ^ Knickerbocker, Brad (December 11, 2010). "Westboro picketers outnumbered at Elizabeth Edwards funeral". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  43. ^ "Oakwood monument connects Elizabeth Edwards, son". Wral. Retrieved March 24, 2016.

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