Elizabeth Anania Edwards, who became a national figure in her fight against cancer and as a partner in her husband's political career, died Tuesday. She was 61.
The funeral will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, according to Brown-Wynne Funeral Home. There will be no public visitation. She is expected to be buried in Oakwood Cemetery, where her son Wade is buried, in a private ceremony.
Edwards spent much of her life as a little-known Raleigh lawyer and mother. But that all changed when her husband, John Edwards, entered politics as a U.S. senator, two-time presidential candidate and Democratic nominee for vice president.
Her husband's career propelled her into the spotlight as a smart, plain-spoken wife who was a key adviser to her husband.
She later was admired for how she carried herself in her battle with breast cancer and the way she dealt with her husband's infidelity. And, in the past few years, her public image shifted again: the scorned woman whose husband fathered a child with another woman.
She and John Edwards separated at the beginning of this year but remained close.
Through it all, Edwards helped change the way political wives were viewed. She was the self-proclaimed "anti-Barbie" who was comfortable sitting in on campaign strategy meetings, chatting with Oprah on TV, or even going head-to-head with conservative columnist Ann Coulter.
She brought a similar self-possession to the media attacks that circulated around her in the wake of news about her husband's affair.
"I'm 5-feet-2, dark-haired and could hardly be further from the Barbie figure," Edwards once said. "I think of myself as a fairly serious person."
President Barack Obama talked to John Edwards and their daughter Cate on Tuesday afternoon, saying he admired Elizabeth Edwards' "tenacious" advocacy for improving health care and fighting poverty.
"In her life," Obama said, "Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain. Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of adversity would have given up. But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will remain a source of inspiration."
A hot-tempered 'catch'
Elizabeth Anania grew up on the front lines of the Cold War.
She was born July 3, 1949 in Jacksonville, Fla., at the Navy air station, the first of three children.
Her father, Vincent Anania, a first generation Italian-American from western Pennsylvania, was an All-American lacrosse player at the U.S. Naval Academy. In 1959, he won the Distinguished Flying Cross after bringing home his spy plane that was hit 15 times by North Korean MIGs.
As a Navy brat, Elizabeth Edwards grew up at military installations around the world, including two tours in Japan. Her mother hired a trained geisha, a badly scarred survivor of Hiroshima, to teach her daughters Japanese dance, music and how to comport themselves with grace.
After graduating from UNC-Chapel Hill, Elizabeth spent two years in graduate school with the goal of earning a Ph.D. in English literature and pursuing a teaching career. But job prospects for English graduates were poor and she entered law school, something her mother had always wanted her to do.
It was at UNC's law school that Elizabeth Anania met Johnny Edwards, three years her junior.
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