Mother. Political spouse and advisor. Lawyer. Advocate. Author. Businesswoman. Survivor. Inspiration.
These are just a few words to describe Elizabeth Edwards, an incredible woman and the voice of a generation.
In 2006, Congressional Families Cancer Prevention program had the privilege of presenting our Excellence in Cancer Awareness award to Elizabeth at our annual Action for Cancer Awareness luncheon. It was the day after she appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s television program to begin the tour for her book Saving Graces. We were so honored and excited that she made the trip to Washington for this special event which was widely attended by her former Senate spouse peers along with Senators, Members of the House of Representatives and their spouses, and leaders in the cancer community.
We honored Elizabeth that September day, primarily for her generosity and courage in sharing her story about how she discovered her cancer and how she used her experience to raise awareness about the importance of early detection. What a wide audience she reached. By communicating that message, she doubtless saved many lives.
Elizabeth had the rare and precious gift of being able to connect with people from every walk of life. She had an entrée to leaders around the world as well as men and women working in the most humble jobs throughout this country. Elizabeth relished the chance to learn something from everyone she met. In addition to the thousands of people she reached in person, she touched countless more through her writings – both through her books and online. This made her accessible to us all, and she used her access to educate, inspire and advocate about health issues and cancer prevention.
So much of Elizabeth’s life in the public eye centered on her role as a political spouse of a senator/vice presidential candidate/presidential candidate that, for a time, we lost sight of the highly educated lawyer and accomplished individual that she was. When the spouse role faded into the background, the remarkable and passionate advocate emerged stronger than ever, a champion for health care.
As a fifty one year old woman, I viewed Elizabeth Edwards as a leader and the voice of my generation. Maybe that’s why losing her feels so personal and hits so close to home. I, along with the nation, traveled with Elizabeth on her journey. We were with her when she talked about two Americas in the campaigns and when she revealed her cancer diagnosis. We were with her when her cancer took a turn for the better and our hearts sunk when she announced the cancer was back and incurable. We watched the public airing of a marital heartbreak, and cheered when she continued on passionately with her work. And we were with Elizabeth for her final statement indicating that it was her time to end treatment.
The last time I saw Elizabeth was in Boston, the night before the funeral for Senator Ted Kennedy. We were attending a celebration of the Senator’s life at the JFK Library. It was a wonderful night, filled with laughter and tears.
So I’d like to end with a remembrance and celebration of the amazing life of Elizabeth Anania Edwards. It was a life of extraordinary experiences and opportunity, rivaled only in scale by personal tragedy and sorrow. She served her country and her causes, and for that we are most grateful. Elizabeth left her unique mark on us, and she will be missed.