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Elizabeth Edwards: A profile in courage

by Hatcher Hurd

December 17, 2010

It was with no small amount of sadness that I, like the rest of the country, woke up Dec. 7 to hear that Elizabeth Edwards had died.

As the tributes poured in, I began to think about what made this woman so remarkable. She was a survivor and a fighter, that's certain. She was intelligent, poised and a multi-tasker of unbelievable energy.

You saw all that in the way she lived her life. When her personal life was shredded by the gossip mongers and spread from coast to coast, she did not shrink away. Instead, she used it to make a positive difference.

She was not just a campaigning wife, basking in the shadow of her political husband. She was policy advisor and confidante, but she was not afraid to differ with him publicly on issues in which she had strong feelings gay marriage (pro) and the war in Iraq (con).

When she lost a son in a car accident, she and her husband decided to have more children, and did, at age 48 and 50. She was always looking for a way to make a difference. So perhaps it was not surprising that diagnosed with cancer, she became a leading advocate for women's health issues and the fight against cancer.

She was a loving, caring person of unusual virtue and industry. I was astonished to learn that after retiring from the law, in addition to her advocacy, she also ran the Wade Edwards Foundation (her son's memorial), taught as an adjunct professor at the UNC law school and was a public school substitute teacher.

But that was not what amazed me. In 2009, she opened a furniture store in Chapel Hill. I can only imagine what it would be like to start a business in the midst of the greatest recession of our time while facing a recurrence of her cancer.

So for me, her overarching character trait must be courage. When I face adversity, and we all will at one time or another, let me face it with a tenth of the courage and fortitude she showed in meeting all that life threw her way.

It would have been easy to have retired from public life and the public spotlight to hoard one's precious moments for family, friends and private interests. But that evidently was not in her. She was out there trying to make a difference until cancer's last siege took its final toll.

Perhaps that is what nourished her, that she could take that public stage thrust upon her and use it to her purposes.

Oh, and did I mention that she wrote two personal memoirs that became overnight bestsellers? She touched millions in ways that I only became aware of in her waning days. I wish I could have known her.

And I know I am not the first person to ever say this, but I think it true: the wrong Edwards ran for president.