Local News

Elizabeth Edwards left imprint on American politics

Posted December 10, 2010 3:07 p.m. EST
Updated December 10, 2010 8:10 p.m. EST

— Elizabeth Edwards lived a life of dignity and remained strong while facing adversity.

That’s how family and longtime friends say they will remember the 61-year-old mother of four, lawyer, health care advocate and politician’s wife, who died this week after a six-year battle with cancer.

Also part of her legacy – her influence on American politics.

Andy Taylor, a political science professor at North Carolina State University, said Friday that Edwards’s populist beliefs about dealing with poverty and creating access to health care were views that heavily influenced her husband, former North Carolina senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards.

“She was a very different kind of politician’s wife. I think people found that very appealing,” Taylor said.

Unlike other political spouses who take on smaller roles, Taylor said, Elizabeth Edwards had an ability to relate to everyone and share her struggles in the process.

She penned two memoirs – “Saving Graces” and “Resilience” – in which she wrote about how she dealt with adversity.

Edwards’ oldest son died in a car wreck in 1996; she fought a very public cancer battle; and she stood by her husband during his second presidential campaign even after she learned of an extramarital affair. The couple separated last year after 32 years of marriage.

“Those real-life, searing experiences – like losing a child, like her illness, like her marital promises – they really connect with all of us who go through those kind of things,” Taylor said. “And her ability to keep going generated tremendous admiration.”

Even though Elizabeth Edwards never held office, Taylor said, her influence on her husband's campaigns had an indelible effect on the political landscape.

“In addition to her own qualities, her incredibly interesting life story elevates Elizabeth Edwards in the consciousness of the American public,” he said.

Edwards will be laid to rest Saturday next to her son during a private graveside ceremony. A public service will be prior to the burial at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, according to details released by the Edwards family on Thursday.

Among those expected to attend the services are Sen. John Kerry, Gov. Bev Perdue, Sen. Kay Hagan, 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 Pondersa and Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy.