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Edwards remembered as strong, gracious, authentic

Posted December 11, 2010
Updated December 12, 2010

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— Elizabeth Edwards was remembered Saturday as a mother who comforted all those around her, as a fiercely loyal, funny and smart friend and as a woman who made friends out of every stranger she met.

Edwards, 61, the estranged wife of former U.S. senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday after a six-year battle with breast cancer.

About 1,100 people filled the sanctuary at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in downtown Raleigh for her funeral. John Edwards sat in the front row with his three children, Cate, Emma Claire and Jack, but didn't speak during the 75-minute service.

Cate Edwards said her mother was a source of strength to all around, even in her final days. Elizabeth Edwards would routinely comfort the people who were trying to comfort her, her daughter said.

"She could bring out the brave in anyone. She brought it out in all of us," Cate Edwards said. "All of the grace and strength she showed during her whole life will hold us up in the days ahead."

Elizabeth Edwards was a "lighthouse" to her children, providing a source of guidance, her daughter said.

"Every single thing she did, she did to the fullest possible extent," Cate Edwards said. "Generosity and consideration of others was ingrained in every fiber of who she was. ... It was instinctive to her."

Cate Edwards closed her remarks by reading part of a letter that her mother left for her and her younger sister and brother to prepare them for her passing.

"Wherever I am, wherever you are, I have my arms wrapped around you," the letter concluded.

"My greatest hope and the greatest ambition I can think of is that we will each honor her by being the people she taught us to be, and that by doing that, she'll live on in each of us," Cate Edwards said.

Longtime friend Hargrave McElroy recalled Elizabeth Edwards' eternal optimism and competitive zeal, saying she once brought two books of crossword puzzles on a trip so they could time each other.

"Above all, Elizabeth was authentic," McElroy said. "(There was) no pretense, no holding back.

"After all of the years of public travel, the talk shows, the books, the speeches, the disappointments and the accolades, one thing stands out – Elizabeth remained the same wonderfully authentic person," she continued. "(She was) a pro at staying true and looking on the bright side."

Elizabeth Edwards' funeral Elizabeth Edwards' funeral

McElroy said Elizabeth Edwards would routinely remain at book signings and other appearances longer than her schedule allowed in order to talk with everyone in line.

"Elizabeth never knew a stranger," she said. "In every encounter, she recognized a new friend."

Glen Bergenfield, a longtime friend and law school classmate, said that part of him expected that Elizabeth Edwards would have left notes behind as to what he should say at her funeral. The lack of any such notes, he said, means that he and others will have to move forward on their own.

Elizabeth Edwards had a "broad and boundless energy (and) a sharp and breathtakingly wide intelligence," Bergenfield said, recalling a law school class when she responded to a professor's question with a 20-minute exercise in logic, defeating the professor's every attempt to embarrass her.

"She grabbed onto life – she wasn't zen, she wasn't about balance," Bergenfield said. "She grabbed onto the people she loved and her beliefs, and she wouldn't let go."

During one campaign appearance in New Hampshire, he said, Elizabeth Edwards comforted a woman whose child had recently died by saying the child's name aloud.

"It was as simple and beautiful a blessing as I've ever heard. It was her theory that in this way one kept alive the spirit of the child and spread it further into the world," he said.

Bergenfield closed his remarks by saying, "We'll all say your name out loud. We know what to do. You've prepared us well."

Those who attended her funeral included U.S. Sens. John Kerry and Kay Hagan; Gov. Beverly Perdue; U.S. Reps. David Price, Brad Miller, Larry Kissell, Bob Etheridge and G.K. Butterfield; Iowa First Lady Mary Culver; former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Edwards was buried in a private service at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, next to her oldest child, Wade Edwards, who was killed in a 1996 traffic accident.

Remembering Elizabeth Edwards Remembering Elizabeth Edwards

The setting of the funeral and burial are deeply tied to memories of Wade Edwards. The family turned to Edenton Street Methodist Church for comfort after his death. Wade's funeral was held there, and Cate Edwards delivered his eulogy.

One of Elizabeth Edwards' pallbearers, Tyler Highsmith, was in the car with Wade during the wreck. He and three other pallbearers – Michael Lewis, Ellis Roberts and Charles Scarantino – were also pallbearers in Wade's funeral.

Another pallbearer, Trevor Upham, is a doctor who recently became engaged to Cate Edwards.

In her eulogy, Cate Edwards acknowledged that earlier loss, saying, "Wade and mom are still a part of this family and always will be."

Jennifer Palmieri, who was a senior adviser during John Edwards' presidential campaigns, said the funeral was open to the public because Elizabeth Edwards always insisted on open campaign events – much to the consternation of staff who wanted to control access. She never wanted tickets issued, even if they were free ones.

Among those gathered on a nearby street hours before the funeral was Barbara Fields, a 65-year-old Raleigh resident who never knew Edwards personally but was impressed by how she handled adversity.

Fields, a 10-year breast cancer survivor who wore a pink scarf with breast cancer logos, said she found comfort in books and speeches by Edwards about the fear and sleepless nights that come with fighting the illness.

"She just carried herself with a quiet dignity," Fields said.

Two blocks from the church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., led a demonstration that involved a handful of people with controversial signs. The church is known for anti-gay protests at funerals, often those of U.S. military members.

Across the street, a large counter-protest was staged in support of Elizabeth Edwards and her family.

3 Comments

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  • pebbles262004 Dec 13, 2010

    Her funeral service was beauitful...it fit her perfect

  • cstone13132 Dec 13, 2010

    now can we let this go & focus on some things that might be important like job's,failing economy or are law breaking local government ?

  • DeathRow-IFeelYourPain-NOT Dec 13, 2010

    I read the whole article, with curiosity about the Kansas church and a counter protest. It was the last thing mentioned with very little detail. As curious as I was about how North Carolinians counter protested this LITTLE scummy church, I was glad to see that it wasn't sensationalized any more. Thanks WRAL for handling that LITTLE skirmish in an appropriate manner.