Local News

Computer lab, advocacy let Edwards be mother to many

Posted December 8, 2010 5:28 p.m. EST
Updated December 8, 2010 6:36 p.m. EST

— Elizabeth Edwards was a second mother to many young people through her advocacy and a computer center created as her late son's legacy, friends said Wednesday.

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.

Ellis Roberts knew her long before the world knew her as the wife of a high-profile politician or a public face of breast cancer. He was among several teens who spent many nights at Edwards' former home in Raleigh during the early 1990s eating pizza with the family.

"The Elizabeth that we all knew from Raleigh growing up – before politics – she was the same Elizabeth when all the cameras were turned on and at town hall meetings and everywhere else," Roberts said.

Roberts was a good friend of Edwards' oldest son, Wade Edwards. He recalled when they were in elementary school and Elizabeth Edwards had an unusual idea for Halloween costumes.

"Nine of us for three months were sitting there watering these sweatshirts and sweatpants (to grow grass on them," he said. "We were a nine-hole golf course, and needless to say, we won the Halloween costume contest."

Wade Edwards' death at age 16 in a 1996 traffic accident turned the Edwardses' lives upside-down. Elizabeth Edwards retired from practicing law to deal with her grief, and the couple later committed themselves to public service, including John Edwards' push into politics and his wife's advocacy for health care reform and other issues.

To honor their son, the family created the Wade Edwards Learning Lab, a computer lab for high school students in Raleigh. Roberts now serves on the board of the foundation that runs the center.

After Wade Edwards died, Roberts said, his friends continued the Thursday night pizza tradition at the Edwards' home for a while. He said Elizabeth Edwards became like a second mother to him, and since her death, he said he has learned he's not the only one.

"She played that role in people's lives," he said. "I thought it was just me and the guys I grew up with, but she played that role as a second mother in a nurturing aspect to folks all across the country."

Ellan Maynard, another board member for the computer lab, said Edwards' heart was always with young people, and the center was a way for her to connect with them and with the son she missed so much.

"That was her prize, her project, her heart," Maynard said of the computer lab. "It was her way of continuing to parent Wade, and to do this thing with the learning lab was a way to be his mom.

"To me, if there is something I can do as a friend, it'll be to keep my promise to keep that legacy alive," she said.