It was a rare night on the campaign trail, but seeing as it was only my second trip covering then-Sen. John Edwards quest for the White House, I had no way of knowing how ironic the whole evening was, and in retrospect would become.
It was November 2003. The day began in Idabel, Okla., and ended in Tulsa. The events were endless, but the speech was always the same. By the time we arrived at the Doubletree Hotel, everyone was exhausted. A bit reserved by nature, I debated whether to even go down to the bar and meet with the other reporters and campaign staffers who had gathered, but I decided this was my job and I needed to eat, so I would grab a beer and wings and then head out.
I was stunned, though, when I arrived to see Edwards quizzing all the reporters on their various jobs and the aspects they liked and didn’t like. He was wearing a white, long-sleeved shirt and khaki pants. He appeared relaxed and personable, and I mean that in a complimentary manner. Over the next year I would go on to spend an obscene amount of time on the campaign trail with him, and this night stands out among the many because he was so, for lack of a better word, normal.
Toward the end, I was sitting next to him. He looked down at his watch and said, “Oh Shit, I have to call Elizabeth. She’s going to worry.” He quickly exited.
I can see my husband saying something like this if he was away on a business trip, or my brothers saying it if they were out with friends watching Monday Night Football.
This is the memory that comes to mind when I read that Elizabeth Edwards's cancer has taken a turn for the worse, and that according to some reports, she is gravely ill and has weeks to live.
Before John Edwards became a national joke and his picture appeared in the definition next to the word scumbag in the dictionary, he and his wife shared a true love story. It may have been a fairy tale, or it may have been destroyed by 21st century politics, but at the time it appeared real and genuine.
During the campaign, I encountered Mrs. Edwards numerous times. She always struck me as sincere and strong. She had class and was not a showboat or trophy wife. She had a good handshake, something not all political spouses or women do. Her young children Jack and Emma Claire would often run to the back of the plane and hang out with the press, especially the tech guys working with television or the Internet providers. Mrs. Edwards would come back and investigate who they were spending so much time with. At the time I found this impressive, and now as a mother, I understand it completely. She wasn’t being the candidate’s wife here; she was being Mom.
Sure, there has been plenty written about her since, some of it not all that flattering. And I wonder to this day why on Earth she signed on to continue that train-wreck of a campaign after she found out about the affair and learned her cancer had returned. They easily could have walked away, and no one would have known their dirty laundry or even cared.
But that’s all in the past. As she noted in her Facebook posting last night, she is human. Now she is dying and will leave behind two teenage, or soon-to-be teenage children, as well as a daughter who followed in her legal footsteps. Her obit will almost certainly mention the videographer by name in one of the lead graphs. That’s too bad. Mrs. Edwards should not be defined by a no-good husband who let his ego get the best of him and who could not keep his pants on.
I choose to remember her as the caring wife and mother. As the professional woman who, only after the death of her son, took her husband’s name as a way to honor his legacy. My memory of her is of someone whose policy ideas were completely contrary to my own, but who I respected nonetheless. She is a woman who has experienced immense personal pain and tragedy. Hopefully she will soon find eternal peace.