Local News

Edwards to be buried next to her son

Posted December 8, 2010 11:20 a.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2010 6:54 p.m. EST

— Elizabeth Edwards will be buried Saturday in a private service at Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, next to her oldest son, who was killed 14 years ago in a traffic accident.

Edwards, 61, the estranged wife of two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday at her Chapel Hill home after a six-year battle with breast cancer.

A funeral will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Edenton Street United Methodist Church, 228 W. Edenton St. in Raleigh, according to Brown-Wynne Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.

The family asked that people make donations to the Wade Edwards Foundation, which supports a computer lab for high school students in Raleigh.

Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in the waning days of the 2004 presidential campaign, when John Edwards, who was then a U.S. senator from North Carolina, was the Democratic nominee for vice president. The couple didn't disclose her illness until after the election.

Dr. Lisa Carey, the oncologist at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill who treated Edwards, said in a statement Wednesday that Edwards took part in a clinical study to help researchers better understand why some tumors respond to treatment better than others.

"Her life was marked by many such acts of selflessness, but I mention this one in particular because only through this kind of partnership between patients and researchers will we finally end cancer," said Carey, medical director of the UNC Breast Center and associate director of clinical science at the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Eighty percent of women with breast cancer are now cured because of recent advances in treatment, and many others have years of productive lives while receiving treatment, Carey said.

Elizabeth Edwards' cancer went into remission after surgery and months of treatment in 2005, but it resurfaced two years later, as John Edwards was mounting a second run at the White House. The couple agreed that they wouldn't allow the cancer to derail his candidacy.

Because the cancer had moved into her bones, Carey said at that time that it was no longer curable but could be treated.

Doctors recently informed Edwards that the cancer had spread and recommended that she stop treatment.

"Elizabeth Edwards was an amazing woman. I liked her very much and will miss her," Carey said. "She uniformly demonstrated grace under the worst of circumstances and a remarkable desire to use her misfortune to help others. Like many people, I was often surprised and always impressed by her resilience, which was as evident in private as it was in public."

Friends remember Edwards

Others who knew Edwards expressed similar sentiments Wednesday.

"I remember her intelligence, her passion (and) her compassion for other people," said Ed Turlington, a Raleigh lawyer who headed John Edwards' 2004 presidential campaign and who has known the Edwardses for more than 20 years.

"To know her was to respect and love her. She wore many hats," Turlington said. "Sometimes it was was somewhat chaotic to be around Elizabeth because was juggling so many balls, but it was never dull and most often fun."

Edwards was always involved in her children's schools, planning a neighborhood holiday party or volunteering in the community, he said, calling her an unstoppable personality.

"She was an outstanding mother to all her children. She was a strong part of a marriage for many years, and so, when I'm thinking about her today, I'm smiling on the inside," Turlington said.

Political strategist David "Mudcat" Saunders saiid Elizabeth Edwards was an integral part of her husband's campaigns. No major decision was made without her input, he said, calling her a very strong woman who exceeded the definition of resilient.

"Quite frankly, John has been crushed by all of this. We can all understand why," said Saunders, who was in Chapel Hill with the family on Tuesday. "He says he has one priority next, and that that is being a great father to these kids."

Nancy Olson, the owner of Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh, said she got to know Elizabeth Edwards long before Edwards wrote two books in the last four years about overcoming adversity in her life.

"I had so many moments with her that were very moving," Olson said. "She was an incredibly warm, open person. She connected with everybody."

Edwards held books signings and readings at Quail Ridge for "Saving Graces" in 2006 and "Resilience" last year, and the events routinely drew hundreds of people to the book store.

"The store was always packed, and she greeted every person," Olson said. "She was open to hearing how they felt about the death of children, about cancer, about books. She would talk to people about anything."

She called Edwards "a beautiful writer" who could have been a best-selling novelist.

"I encouraged her many, many times to write a novel. I could tell her eyes would light up and she would think about it, but she was so busy," she said.

Edwards is survived by her husband, daughters Cate and Emma Claire and son Jack.

Wade Edwards, the couple's oldest son, was killed in 1996 at age 16 when his Jeep overturned as he was driving from the family's home in Raleigh to their beach house on Figure Eight Island, near Wilmington.

"We have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence, but she remains the heart of this family. We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life," the family said in a statement Tuesday. "On behalf of Elizabeth, we want to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family."