Elizabeth Edwards Biography

Elizabeth Anania Edwards (born Mary Elizabeth Anania) (July 3, 1949 – December 7, 2010) was an attorney and a best-selling author. At the time of her death, she was separated from her husband John Edwards, the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina who was the 2004 United States Democratic vice-presidential nominee.

Family and early life

Elizabeth Anania, the daughter of Elizabeth and Vincent Anania (1920–2008), grew up in a military family, moving many times and never having a hometown, as her father, a United States Navy pilot, was transfered 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 Resilience that one of the hardest of the many relocations that she went through was having to move during her senior year of high school.[citation needed] She graduated from the Francis C. Hammond High School in Alexandria, Virginia, then attended Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, from which she received her bachelor's degree. After three years of postgraduate studies in English at UNC, she entered UNC's School of Law and earned a J.D.. She met John Edwards when they were both law students at UNC. They married on July 30, 1977.

Elizabeth was the mother of four children with her husband John: Wade, Catharine, Emma Claire, and Jack. Wade was killed in April 1996 when he lost control of his Jeep while driving from his Raleigh home to the family's beach house in the private gated community of Figure Eight Island, near Wilmington. Three weeks before his death, Wade Edwards was honored by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House as one of the 10 finalists in an essay contest sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Voice of America. Wade, accompanied by his parents and sister, met North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms. After Wade died, Helms entered his essay and his obituary into the Congressional Record.

Following Wade's death, the Edwardses decided to have more children: Emma Claire was born in 1998 when Elizabeth was 48, and Jack was born in 2000 when she was 50. She was pregnant with Emma Claire during her husband's 1998 Senate race. Emma Claire and Jack were born in Chapel Hill, where the family now resides. After John's January 21, 2010, public admission that he fathered a child with his mistress, Elizabeth legally separated from him, intending to file for divorce after North Carolina's mandatory one-year separation.


Elizabeth 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 used her maiden name professionally until 1996, when she retired from legal practice upon the death of her son and changed her name to Elizabeth Edwards. Much of her time since 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.

Political activity

During much of 2004, Edwards joined her husband and United States Democratic Presidential nominee Senator John Kerry 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.

Illness and death

On November 3, 2004, the day Kerry conceded defeat in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. She later revealed that she discovered a lump in her breast while on a campaign stop in Kenosha, Wisconsin, a few weeks earlier, in the midst of the campaign. Edwards was treated and has remained an activist for women's health and cancer patients. 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.

In September 2006, Edwards released a book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, focusing on the death of her son and her illness. In May 2009, Edwards released a second book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities, further detailing her illness, the 1996 death of her son Wade, the earlier death of her father, the effect of these events on her marriage to John Edwards, his infidelity, and the general state of health care in America.

At a March 22, 2007 press conference, John and Elizabeth Edwards 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.

On December 6, 2010, Edwards' family announced that she would stop cancer treatment after her doctors advised her that further treatment would be unproductive, the cancer having 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. ”

—Elizabeth Edwards

Edwards died of metastatic breast cancer on Tuesday, December 7, 2010, at home in Chapel Hill, surrounded by friends and family.

Read more about metastatic breast cancer


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