He was the pseudo redneck who had been out of the South only once -- on a trip to Washington. He had few intellectual interests. She was a devotee of Henry James and a politically active liberal Democrat.
He was the soft-spoken, get-along guy. She was an outspoken, hot-tempered Italian-American who dominated every social situation. She was also regarded as more of a catch, drawing the attention of many of the boys.
They were married a few days after they graduated and passed the bar exam. She kept her last name until her husband prepared to run for the Senate.
Although John Edwards had the high-powered legal career, their marriage was one of intellectual equals. She became his most trusted adviser in both law and politics. She was a major influence on his life, just as Hillary Rodham Clinton was for Bill Clinton.
Edwards could have had a high-profile law career like her husband's, but she did what many women do: She balanced her career with the demands of rearing two children -- Wade, born in 1979, and Cate, born in 1982.
She still practiced law, working as a bankruptcy lawyer for the firm of Merriman, Nicholls & Crampton, in the state Attorney General's Office, and as an instructor at the UNC law school.
During big trials, John Edwards often talked to her by phone, asking her to critique the day's events.
Life without Wade
Living in the fashionable Country Club Hills section of Raleigh, she was also a soccer mom, hauling coolers of soft drinks to her children's soccer games. One Halloween, she dressed Wade and eight other children as a nine-hole golf course, growing grass on sandwich boards they wore over their shoulders.
The family's life took a dark turn in 1996 when Wade, 16, was killed in an automobile accident on Interstate 40 between Raleigh and the coast.
The couple was crippled emotionally by Wade's death. John Edwards stopped working for six months and Elizabeth Edwards quit practicing law for good.
They left their son's room unchanged for years, a capped, half-finished bottle of Gatorade left on the bedside table along with his papers and 11th-grade textbook.
She would read to her son at his grave at Oakwood Cemetery, and lie down on his grave to be close to him.
"The intensity of that pain is greater than any emotion I ever had," she would write in her memoirs. "Not love, not fear, not wonder. The greatest of all is pain."
Wade's death changed the arc of the Edwardses' lives. They found religion, changed careers from law to politics and added to their family.
"We asked ourselves, what gives us joy?" she recalled. "Well that was easy. Children gave us joy. Should we have more children? That would be wonderful, but I was 46. Could we?"
The Edwardses went to a round of specialists, who told the couple that she had a slim chance of conceiving. Then at age 48, Edwards had a daughter, Emma Claire, and at age 50, she had Jack. They decided to have the second child because they did not want Emma Claire to think that she was a replacement child. Edwards said she conceived with the aid of hormone shots.
She was pregnant with Emma Claire when her husband ran for the Senate in 1998, defeating Republican Sen. Lauch Faircloth.
Edwards was an active participant in her husband's political career, serving as a sounding board for nearly a decade as he climbed the ladder, which culminated with his selection as the Democratic vice presidential running mate of Sen. John Kerry in 2004. She could also be a demanding and feared figure in the campaign, some times feuding with her husband's aides.
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