Elizabeth Edwards Biography

Lawyer (1949–2010)
Lawyer Elizabeth Edwards supported her husband John Edwards' presidential campaigns even when he admitted to infidelity. She died of breast cancer in 2010.


Lawyer Elizabeth Edwards married John Edwards in 1977. After a car crash killed their son Wade, Edwards went into public service and her husband was elected to the Senate. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004. Her husband later admitted to having an affair and fathering a child with a campaign staffer and dropped out of the 2008 presidential election. Edwards died of breast cancer in 2010.

Early Life

Attorney Mary Elizabeth Anania was born on July 3, 1949, in Jacksonville, Florida, the daughter of Elizabeth and Vincent Anania. Her father served as a United States Navy pilot, and the family moved frequently due to her father's job. For part of her childhood she lived in Japan, where her father was stationed with a reconnaissance squadron, flying missions over China and North Korea.

Elizabeth attended Mary Washington College and then transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she majored in English. She received her bachelor's degree from UNC, and also performed three years of graduate work in American literature there. She then switched to law at UNC, where she met John Edwards. The couple began dating soon after. Elizabeth graduated from UNC Law School in May 1977, and passed the bar shortly after. She and John married on July 30, 1977.

Following law school, Elizabeth Edwards clerked with U.S. District Court Judge Calvitt Clarke, Jr. in Norfolk, Virginia. In 1978, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to become an associate at the law firm of Harwell Barr Martin & Sloan. In 1981, she and her husband moved their family to Raleigh, North Carolina, where she worked for the Attorney General's office and then at the law firm Merriman, Nicholls, and Crampton as a bankruptcy lawyer.

Family Tragedy

Elizabeth and John Edwards had five children together: Wade, Catharine, Emma Claire and Jack. But the family was rocked by tragedy in April 1996, when Wade was in a fatal car accident. After Wade's death, Elizabeth retired from her legal practice, adopted her married name, and devoted herself to the full-time administration of the Wade Edwards Foundation. The nonprofit was designed to reward, encourage, and inspire young people in their educational pursuits. The organization helped build a free computer lab for high school students in Raleigh, and later built a similar lab in Goldsboro, North Carolina.

The following year, she began focusing on the importance of education. She taught legal writing as an adjunct instructor at the law school of the University of North Carolina. That same year she became a member of the first group of Public Fellows at the College of Arts and Sciences at UNC, and began work as a substitute teacher in the Wake County Public Schools.

John's Political Career

Around this time, Edwards and her husband also made the decision to have two more children. In 1998, Elizabeth gave birth to Emma Claire. That same year, her husband was elected to the U.S. Senate, and the family relocated to Washington. Two years later, she and John welcomed their son Jack.

In 2004, Edwards' husband began his next campaign—this time as the U.S. Vice Presidential nominee in partnership with United States Democratic Presidential nominee Senator John Kerry. Elizabeth devoted much of her time to helping her husband on the campaign trail. On November 3, 2004, the day Kerry conceded defeat in the 2004 U.S. Presidential Election, Elizabeth Edwards was diagnosed with breast cancer. After medical treatment, Edwards went into remission.


In 2007, however, the cancer returned. Elizabeth was helping her husband with his 2008 presidential bid at the time, and was considered one of his closest advisors. In spite of her diagnosis, Elizabeth made the decision to continue on with the campaign. But on August 8, 2008, Elizabeth was dealt another blow when her husband publicly admitted to an extramarital affair with campaign worker Rielle Hunter.

Experts speculate that the affair cost Edwards the campaign, and the public sided with Elizabeth, who continued to support her husband. After her husband lost the nomination to Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, Elizabeth decided to serve as an advisor to Obama. Her husband also endorsed Obama during the later stages of the primary season.

In 2009, Elizabeth Edwards spoke out about the affair and life on the campaign trail in her book, Resilience. In it, she discusses the nausea she experienced after discovering the affair, and expressed her feelings about her husband's political aspirations.

Elizabeth passed away on December 7, 2010, after a long battle with breast cancer. She died surrounded by family and friends. In her final words, she said 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."

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