Published: December 8, 2010

By Jim Lichtman
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No single word can adequately sum up any individual, but for Elizabeth Edwards, the former wife of presidential candidate, John Edwards, character would have to rank high on the list. Edwards died yesterday of breast cancer.

In a final message to friends and colleagues, Elizabeth Edwards wrote, “I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces — my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope.”

Time and again, through all the challenges she faced, Elizabeth Edwards not only demonstrated resilience and hope but character in the way she faced the death of her son, the betrayal of her husband as well as her battle with cancer.

“Political consultants,” The New York Times wrote, “said American voters yearned for authenticity and character in a candidate, and thought Mr. Edwards had a singular opportunity. But his aides worried, with some justification, that Mrs. Edwards on a podium was too compelling for his good. At a luncheon in Cleveland, some comments from the audience sounded like paeans to her.

“‘I came to feel the inspiration you exude,’ said a woman bald from months of chemotherapy and radiation. Another cancer patient called Mrs. Edwards ‘my angel, my idol, my everything.’

“While she took a yellow chemotherapy pill once a day,” The Times said, “her stamina seemed high, she often carried her own bags and put in 16-hour days, and she showed no signs of the disease: her hair was full, her skin color was robust, and she bustled with energy.”

In June, 2006, Elizabeth Edwards directly challenged the personal attacks made by conservative Ann Coulter by calling in on the Chris Matthews show.

“…when someone does something that displeases us,” Edward told the fiery Coulter, “we wanna ask them politely to stop doing it. I’d like to ask Ann Coulter — if she wants to debate on issues, on positions — we certainly disagree with nearly everything she said on your show today, but it’s quite another matter for these personal attacks that the things she has said over the years not just about John but about other candidates — it lowers our political dialogue precisely at the time that we need to raise it. So I want to use the opportunity … to ask her politely stop the personal attacks.

“It debases political dialogue. It drives people away from the process. We can’t have a debate about issues if you’re using this kind of language.”

Passionate, principled and inspirational, Edwards disagreed with her husband on same-sex marriage publically saying, “I don’t know why someone else’s marriage has anything to do with me. I’m completely comfortable with gay marriage.”

In her first book, Saving Graces: Finding Solace and Strength from Friends and Strangers (2006), Edwards wrote about the death of her 16-year-old son, killed in an auto accident. Her second book, Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities, detailed her battle with breast cancer and the infidelity of her husband John, but also discussed the general state of health care in America.

In a final message to friends, she wrote, “…I have found 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.”

Author and political activist Helen Keller wrote that, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

Elizabeth Edwards achieved all that and more.


  1. Author

    If you were to ask most women, what do you fear most in your adult life, I would be willing to be that, 1) the loss of a child; 2) a husband’s betrayal; 3) a diagnosis of cancer; and 4) dying before your children have reached adulthood, would most certainly rank in the top ten!

    Elizabeth Edwards had a “faith in the power of resilience and hope” that she exuded every time we were given the privilege of her presence in the news coverage of her. By her actions of dignity and grace she uplifted and inspired an entire country of women (and men). In many ways she was the antithesis of all the negativity around her. One can’t help but wonder if she knew how her positive ethical attitude and behavior not only set a great example for her children, but for an entire country.

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