Image Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty ImagesJust one day after announcing that she would not be continuing with additional treatment for cancer, Elizabeth Edwards has passed away, CNN reports. Edwards, wife of beleaguered former vice presidential candidate John Edwards, died in her North Carolina home after a six-year battle with breast cancer. She was 61. “Today we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth’s presence, but she remains the heart of this family,” her family said in a statement. “We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.”
Being a politician’s wife almost always means the public will define you by what your husband does. Unless, that is, he becomes embroiled in a scandal, at which point you are defined by what he does to you. But Edwards, even as scandal was thrust at her, refused to accept the limiting mantle of “victim.”
Born into the peripatetic life of a daughter in a military family, Elizabeth Anania eventually settled in North Carolina where she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It was there she met John Edwards, whom she married in 1977. She worked as a lawyer until 1996, retaining her maiden name in professional matters for the majority of her married life. The change came following her first major hit of tragedy, when her teenage son Wade was killed in a car accident.
In 2004, the year her husband ran unsuccessfully as the vice presidential nominee, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Five years later, Edwards released Resilience, a surprisingly reflective and hardly sympathy-mongering account of her struggle with the disease. She was harshly thrust back into the spotlight earlier this year, when evidence of her husband’s repeated infidelities came to light. The media portrayed her simultaneously as an injured saint and, due to an unflattering portrayal in John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s 2010 campaign book Game Change, a raging harridan. Hurt but unbowed, she separated from her husband and authored an additional chapter for the paperback edition of Resilience, in which she made clear that she was neither of those things. “I laughed that I never was and don’t want to be Saint Elizabeth,” she wrote. “But I cried that I don’t want to be seen — and maybe here I should admit, remembered — as the worst portraits of me. Is it too much to want your obituary, when written, to be about your own life, not the lives of the worst people who came into your life?” Hopefully, it is enough that, among the many other wives of politicians who serve only as flat background fodder, she had so many more dimensions.