Edwards’s idealism, wit recalled
RALEIGH, N.C. — With stories that spanned decades and spectrums, family and friends of Elizabeth Edwards recalled her yesterday as an idealistic law student who challenged professors, a political sage who offered advice at every turn, and a matriarch who comforted her family even as she was dying of breast cancer.
Edwards’s funeral drew hundreds to Edenton Street United Methodist Church, where she mourned her 16-year-old son, Wade, after he died in a car crash in 1996. She was to be buried next to him during a private ceremony.
Speakers reflected on a multifaceted personality: Edwards, 61, was an intellectual who frequented discount clothing stores like T.J. Maxx, she was a fiery competitor without an ego, and she was a public figure who won the private confidence of virtually everyone she met.
“There aren’t words that are good enough,’’ said daughter Cate Edwards, whose eulogy contained a passage from a letter her mother spent years preparing to leave to her children after she was gone.
“I’ve loved you in the best ways I’ve known how,’’ the letter said. “All I ever really needed was you, your love, your presence, to make my life complete.’’
John Edwards, her estranged husband, did not speak. The couple had four children together. He sat alongside Cate, 28; Emma Claire, 12; and Jack, 10. They held hands as they followed the casket into the sanctuary.
Their oldest daughter talked of how her mother comforted those around her as she lay dying — at one point barely able to speak — while she held her daughter and John’s hands, looking back and forth to each, repeating, “I’m OK. I’m OK.’’
“She was way more worried about us than we were about her,’’ Cate Edwards said.
She talked of her mother’s strength and grace and also of her witty advice about everything from clothing (there are always fewer regrets wearing solids than patterns) to marriage (don’t settle for the first boy you meet).
“She’s been a lighthouse to all of us — a point of guidance when we all feel lost,’’ she said.
The memorial brought several political figures, including Massachusetts Senator John F. Kerry, who led the Democratic presidential ticket in 2004 that included John Edwards, and North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue.
Two of Elizabeth Edwards’s longtime friends, Hargrave McElroy and Glenn Bergenfield, also gave eulogies.
McElroy spoke of the fiery woman who first became a close friend as the couple raised their young children. She said Edwards was always an optimist. “She knew who she was. She never held back. She was without pretense,’’ McElroy said.
Bergenfield described a woman he first met in law school who challenged her professors with a vibrant mind and who possessed “big world, head-turning, walk-into-the-pole gorgeous’’ looks.
He related anecdotes about how strong she was, but also how down-to-earth she was, seeming to care for each stranger she met, disarming campaign operatives with plain language, or crawling under a dorm room bed to find clothing Cate had discarded.
“Nothing that she said publicly, as a mother, as an author or as a friend — none of it fed or was in any way fueled by ego,’’ he said.
Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004, a day after the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost to George W. Bush in that year’s presidential election.
Doctors declared her cancer-free after treatment, but the disease returned in an incurable form in 2007. She died Tuesday.
Her last years were tumultuous ones, made difficult by her husband’s admission that he’d fathered a child with another woman. The couple separated about a year ago.