Elizabeth Edwards: Lawyer who acted as political adviser to her husband John before revelations of his infidelity

In a world which increasingly sees things in black and white, the life of Elizabeth Edwards was a reminder that politics, like life itself, exists in shades of grey. In the early stages of her husband John's political career she was his greatest asset, the exemplary political wife.

She was his key adviser, unafraid to publicly voice differing opinions to his on issues like the Iraq War and gay marriage, helping to reduce the impact his own stands might have had. She was already a public figure of inspirational sympathy; a successful lawyer and a mother who had survived the tragic loss of a teenage son to start a second family even as her husband embarked on his political career.

Then, on 3 November 2004, immediately after her husband and the presidential candidate, John Kerry, conceded defeat to the incumbent Republican ticket of George Bush and Dick Cheney, she was at Massachusetts General Hospital for the first treatment of her just-diagnosed breast cancer. Her 2006 book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers, detailed her battles against tragedy and disease. Her status as an American icon of survival was only intensified when her cancer returned, yet she continued to work on her husband's run for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Edwards withdrew after finishing behind both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the first four contests, including South Carolina, which he had been expected to win.

Then, in August 2008, came the revelation of her husband's affair – which produced a child – with Rielle Hunter, the woman hired to produce his campaign videos.

There were intriguing parallels between 2008's three Democratic contenders. Like Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Edwardses met in law school; and as with Michelle Obama, who met Barack when he interned at her law firm, she was slightly older than her husband. Edwards often called herself "the anti-Barbie", a reference to her husband's characterisation as a good-looking but empty "Ken doll". A White House official went further and dubbed him "the Breck girl", after the glossy model in the US shampoo ads.

When, in March 2007, her cancer returned, and spread, her decision to continue campaigning saw some accuse her and her husband of cynically playing on her illness, particularly in her strong support of a national health care plan. After the right-wing pundit Ann Coulter wished for John Edwards to be killed by terrorists, Elizabeth ambushed her on a television call-in programme; her calm insistence that she be allowed to preserve her dignity reduced Coulter to a caricature of indignation.

Yet by this time, Edwards was already hiding the secret of her husband's affair. Two recent books have presented warts-and-all pictures of the Edwards' marriage. The Politician, by Andrew Young, the aide John Edwards originally arranged to claim paternity of Hunter's child, highlights the cynicism of her silence about the affair, while Game Change, by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, claimed with disingenuous hyperbole that aides felt that "there was no one on the national stage for whom the disparity between public image and private reality was vaster or more disturbing." It portrays her as demanding, controlling, and derisive of her husband's "redneck" background and lack of intellect.

Mary Elizabeth Anania was born in 1949 in Jacksonville, Florida. Her father was a US Navy pilot, her mother the daughter of a Navy pilot and the widow of another. The family moved often throughout her childhood, which included a stay in Japan; she trans-ferred from Mary Washington College in Virginia to the University of North Carolina when her father was assigned to teach there. She graduated with a degree in English, but while in graduate studies switched, and met John Edwards while getting her law degree. The couple married the day after taking the North Carolina bar exam, and while he established a hugely profitable career as a tort lawyer, she worked for the states' attorney's office, and then in bankruptcy law, using her maiden name.

They lived a comfortable life in the state capital, Raleigh, until 1996, when their 16-year-old son, Wade, was killed in a car accident, three weeks after he had received an award as a finalist in a national essay contest at the White House from Hillary Clinton. In her book, Edwards detailed her grief, which included daily visits and conversations at her son's grave, and how it changed their lives. The couple started a foundation in their son's name.

Edwards took fertility treatments that led to two more children, and as she formally adopted her husband's surname he began a campaign that ended in his winning a US Senate seat in a huge upset over the right-wing Republican Jesse Helms's protégé, Lauch Faircloth. Rather than seek re-election in 2004, Edwards ran for the Democratic nomination, and was taken on by the eventual winner Kerry as his running mate.

His affair with Hunter began in 2006, as he started his campaign for the 2008 nomination. In her 2009 book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities, Elizabeth was unstinting in detailing the progress of her husband's gradual confession. She wrote: "Just as I don't want cancer to take over my life, I don't want this indiscretion, however long in duration, to take over my life either." But when Edwards confessed paternity just before the publication of The Politician in January, they parted. A year's separation is a requirement for divorce in North Carolina. She died at home, having recently ceased treatment after the cancer had spread to her liver.

Mary Elizabeth Anania, lawyer and political adviser: born Jacksonville, Florida 3 July 1949; married 1977 John Edwards (two daughters, one son, one son deceased); died Chapel Hill, North Carolina 7 December 2010.

Suggested Topics
News
people
News
people And here is why...
News
peopleStella McCartney apologises over controversial Instagram picture
Life and Style
Laid bare: the Good2Go app ensures people have a chance to make their intentions clear about having sex
techCould Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
News
i100
Sport
footballArsenal 4 Galatasaray 1: Wenger celebrates 18th anniversary in style
Arts and Entertainment
Amazon has added a cautionary warning to Tom and Jerry cartoons on its streaming service
tv
News
people
News
The village was originally named Llansanffraid-ym-Mechain after the Celtic female Saint Brigit, but the name was changed 150 years ago to Llansantffraid – a decision which suggests the incorrect gender of the saint
newsWelsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
News
Destructive discourse: Jewish boys look at anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on to the walls of the synagogue in March 2006, near Tel Aviv
peopleAt the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Life and Style
Couples who boast about their relationship have been condemned as the most annoying Facebook users
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Hayley Williams performs with Paramore in New York
musicParamore singer says 'Steal Your Girl' is itself stolen from a New Found Glory hit
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Associate Recrutiment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: SThree Group have been well ...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Day In a Page

Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

Time to stop running

At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

An app for the amorous

Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

She's having a laugh

Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

Let there be light

Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

A look to the future

It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
The 10 best bedspreads

The 10 best bedspreads

Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

Arsenal vs Galatasaray

Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence