“All things are possible if you are willing to put yourself on the line. You cannot stand back and hope for the best. You have to act.”
“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.”
Elizabeth Edwards was a mother, friend, author, lawyer, advocate, public servant, dreamer, realist and inspiration. The Elizabeth Edwards Foundation is modeled after the inspiring life that Elizabeth led and will continue her efforts to make a difference in our communities and create hope and opportunities for those who need it most.
Elizabeth Edwards, then Mary Elizabeth Anania, was born on July 3, 1949 to Vincent and Elizabeth Anania. She was the oldest of three siblings, with her brother Jay and sister Nancy yet to be born. Elizabeth’s childhood was spent following her father, a Navy Captain, from from base to base, including nine years in Iwakuni, Japan. Elizabeth routinely cited her childhood in naval communities as the source of her innate desire and ability to talk to anyone and weave a wide, diverse network of friends.
After graduating from high school in Alexandria, Virginia, Elizabeth Edwards attended Mary Washington College. After two years, she transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she received her Bachelor’s degree. For three years, she attended English graduate school at UNC, before entering the UNC School of Law in 1974. It was at the UNC School of Law that she met her future husband, John Edwards. She and John were married on July 30, 1977.
For years, Elizabeth Edwards had a successful career as an attorney. She served as a law clerk in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia before moving to Nashville, Tennessee to work as an associate in a law firm. While in Nashville, she gave birth to her first son, Wade, in July 1979. The family moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she continued to practice at law at the Office of the Attorney General of North Carolina and at Merriman, Nicholls & Crampton. She gave birth to her second child, Cate, in 1982.
In 1996, Elizabeth’s son Wade died in tragic car accident at the age of 16. Afterwards, Elizabeth gave up the practice of law and devoted her life to public service. In Wade’s memory, the Edwards family started the Wade Edwards Foundation. The Wade Edwards Foundation’s primary project is The Wade Edwards Learning Lab (“the WELL”), a computer lab and academic facility across the street from Broughton High School, the school Wade attended. When the WELL first opened in the fall of 1996, Elizabeth served as its first director, working there every day. She described the experience in her first book, Saving Graces: “These students who came to the WELL were strong; they just wanted a chance, and they grabbed the opportunity there.” Elizabeth became intimately invested in the lives of the kids whom she served at the WELL, describing them as part of her family. And she became devoted to their futures, writing: “Crystal wrote well but got no encouragement, so I agreed to read her work and help her improve. I bothered her all fall until she applied to college. No one else was going to do it.”
In 1997, the Edwards family set two life-changing goals: to have more children and for John to run for the United States Senate. Elizabeth was 47 at the time, and John had never run for public office before. Both were long shots. And in 1998, both were reality. Emma Claire, Elizabeth’s third child, was born in 1998 and John Edwards was elected to the United States Senate. In 2000, Elizabeth gave birth to another son, Jack, at the age of 50. It was never beyond her to prove that anything was possible.
In 2004, Elizabeth Edwards’s husband, John Edwards, ran for the Democratic Presidential Nomination and, ultimately, as the Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate. During that campaign, Elizabeth, the self-declared “anti-Barbie,” became a prominent and admired figure in her own right. She was fearless and well-spoken on the campaign trail and worked tirelessly on behalf of the ticket, travelling across the country for months.
In October 2004, while campaigning in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Elizabeth discovered a large lump in her right breast. After John Kerry and John Edwards conceded the election, Elizabeth and her family rushed to a Boston hospital where the lump was diagnosed as breast cancer. After undergoing treatment in late 2004 and early 2005, Elizabeth’s cancer appeared to be in remission. Shortly after, she penned her first book, Saving Graces, a New York Times Bestseller. In that book, Elizabeth reflected on her childhood in the Navy, the loss of her son Wade and her battle with breast cancer. She credited her own strength, which had been widely praised as inspirational, to the support of family and friends that she had collected throughout her life. Saving Graces inspired, moved, and comforted readers across the country. And Elizabeth became a prominent and powerful advocate in the fight against cancer, as well as the fight for widespread access to quality health care.
In 2007, during the early stages of the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary race, Elizabeth’s cancer came back. She was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer to the bone, which was treatable but incurable. During that primary season, Elizabeth was widely celebrated for her strong and independent voice, particularly as a champion of fair, truly equal access to health care. From 2008-2010, she served as a Senior Fellow for Health Policy for the Center for American Progress. In 2009, she authored a second autobiographical book, Resilience, about finding strength, solace and lessons in the face of life’s adversities. Her willingness to publically discuss the difficulties she faced made others feel less alone. She became a public icon for women and men living with cancerâ€” her strength inspiring many to have the courage to hope; her spirit of life demonstrating the importance of making every day count.
In late 2010, Elizabeth Edwards discovered that cancer had spread to her liver and that she had very little time left. She continued to smile, even in her final days, and her hope never faltered. She died at her home in Chapel Hill on December 7, 2010, surrounded by her family and friends, by love and peace. She is deeply missed, but will never be forgotten.