Video: Family, friends mourn Elizabeth Edwards

  1. Transcript of: Family, friends mourn Elizabeth Edwards

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: This was a day of remembrance in Raleigh , North Carolina , for Elizabeth Edwards , who died this week of breast cancer . Much of her public life over the years was framed by the career of her husband, John Edwards , a former senator and presidential candidate. But it was how Elizabeth Edwards publicly navigated a series of personal challenges that in the end allowed her to define her legacy on her own terms. NBC 's Michelle Kosinski reports.

    MICHELLE KOSINSKI reporting: Peaceful was the overwhelming feeling here in the same place where Elizabeth Edwards herself came for comfort after losing her teenage son Wade in a car accident years ago. Now her husband, former Senator John Edwards , comforted

    their children: Emma Claire , Jack and Cate , who is an attorney like her parents. She spoke for the family.

    Ms. CATE EDWARDS: When she could barely speak anymore, my dad and I sat at her bedside and held each of her hands, and she just kept looking at us back and forth saying, 'I'm OK. I'm OK.' She was way more worried about us than we were about her.

    KOSINSKI: And peace is what they spoke of for Elizabeth , who pushed onward

    through some of the most wrenching struggles life can muster: the death of a child, cancer, her husband's infidelity.

    Ms. HARGRAVE McELROY (Edwards Family Friend): A pro at staying true and looking on the bright side.

    KOSINSKI: In attendance, Senator John Kerry , who chose John Edwards as his running mate in the 2004 presidential election. Longtime friend Glenn Bergenfield , who knew Elizabeth and John back in law school, remembered her humor and fierce competitive streak that at times drew criticism, and that she fully acknowledged.

    Mr. GLENN BERGENFIELD: Elizabeth said, 'I don't want to debate Laura Bush , but I would love to take a piece out of Lynne Cheney .'

    KOSINSKI: He also spoke of this family's future.

    Mr. BERGENFIELD: Jack and Emma have their dad, and I can tell you from up very close, they adore and love and trust him just as Cate does and Wade did. He's a loving and very attentive dad. And despite his grief over Elizabeth 's death, he's strong and will take great care of these kids.

    KOSINSKI: Cate read a letter that Elizabeth had left for them.

    Ms. EDWARDS: "For all I've said about life, I want you to know that all I ever really needed was you. Wherever I am, wherever you are, I have my arms wrapped around you."

    KOSINSKI: And in turn, she spoke to her mother.

    Ms. EDWARDS: Emma , Jack and I ended every conversation with our mom by saying, 'I love you more.' And she always responded, 'No, I love you more.' And as you can imagine, none of us ever won that battle. But today I have the honor of being the last to say, Mom, I really, really love you more.

    KOSINSKI: Some here were surprised to learn that Elizabeth , always the careful organizer, had been actively planning for her children's futures without her, but planned none of her own funeral. Today she was buried next

    to her son Wade. Lester: Michelle Kosinski in Raleigh for us tonight, thank you.

    HOLT:

By
updated 12/11/2010 11:06:42 PM ET 2010-12-12T04:06:42

Family and friends of Elizabeth Edwards recalled her Saturday as an idealistic law student who challenged professors, a political sage who offered advice at every turn and a matriarch who comforted her family even as she was dying of breast cancer.

Edwards' funeral drew hundreds to Edenton Street United Methodist Church, where she once mourned her 16-year-old son, Wade, after he died in a car crash in 1996. She was to be buried next to him during a private ceremony.

Speakers reflected on a multi-faceted personality: Edwards, 61, was an intellectual who frequented discount clothing stores like T.J. Maxx, she was a fiery competitor, and she was a public figure who won the private confidence of virtually everyone she met.

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"There aren't words that are good enough," said daughter Cate Edwards, whose eulogy contained a passage from a letter her mother spent years preparing to leave to her children after she was gone.

"I've loved you in the best ways I've known how," the letter said. "All I ever really needed was you, your love, your presence, to make my life complete."

John Edwards, her estranged husband, did not speak. The couple had four children together. John Edwards sat alongside 28-year-old Cate, 12-year-old Emma Claire and 10-year-old Jack. They held hands as they followed the casket into the sanctuary.

Video: Edwards' daughter says final goodbye (on this page)

Their oldest daughter talked of how her mother comforted those around her as she lay dying — at one point barely able to speak — while she held her daughter and John's hands, looking back and forth to each, repeating, "I'm OK. I'm OK."

"She was way more worried about us than we were about her," Cate Edwards said.

She talked of her mother's strength and grace and also of her witty advice about everything from clothing (there are always fewer regrets wearing solids than patterns) to marriage (don't settle for the first boy you ever meet).

Image: John Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards
Gerry Broome  /  AP
Elizabeth Edwards died of cancer. She was 61.

"She's been a lighthouse to all of us — a point of guidance when we all feel lost," she said.

The memorial brought several political figures, including Sen. John Kerry, who led the Democratic presidential ticket in 2004 that included John Edwards, and North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue.

Two of Elizabeth Edwards' longtime friends, Hargrave McElroy and Glenn Bergenfield, also gave eulogies.

McElroy spoke admiringly of the fiery woman who first became a close friend as the couple raised their young children, telling stories of Edwards' expertise at any pursuit that required intellect — from board games to sports trivia. She said Edwards was always an optimist.

"She knew who she was. She never held back. She was without pretense," McElroy said.

Image: Elizabeth Edwards' casket
Gerry Broome  /  AP
Pall bearers carry the casket during funeral services for Elizabeth Edwards at Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday.

Bergenfield described a woman he first met in law school who challenged her professors with a vibrant mind and who possessed "big world, head-turning, walk-into-the-pole gorgeous" looks. He related anecdotes about how strong she was, but also how she was down-to-earth she was, seeming to care for each stranger she met, disarming campaign operatives with plain language or crawling under a dormroom bed to find clothing Cate had discarded.

"Nothing that she said publicly, as a mother, as an author or as a friend — none of it fed or was in any way fueled by ego," he said.

Bergenfield described Edwards as a close friend to him and his family — giving his children thoughtful advice and teaching people around her to "live like it's important."

One of the pallbearers, Tyler Highsmith, was in the car Wade Edwards was driving when he died. He and three other pallbearers — Michael Lewis, Ellis Roberts and Charles Scarantino — were pallbearers in Wade Edwards' funeral. Trevor Upham, who was recently engaged to Cate Edwards, also served as a pallbearer for Elizabeth Edwards.

Video: Family, friends mourn Elizabeth Edwards (on this page)

Jennifer Palmieri, who was a senior adviser during John Edwards' presidential campaigns, said the funeral was open to the public because Elizabeth Edwards always insisted on open campaign events — much to the consternation of staff who wanted to control access. She never wanted tickets issued, even free ones.

Among the people who gathered on a nearby street hours before the funeral was Barbara Fields, a 65-year-old Raleigh resident who never knew Edwards personally but was impressed by how she handled adversity.

Fields, a 10-year breast cancer survivor who wore a pink scarf with breast cancer logos, said she found comfort in books and speeches by Edwards about the fear and sleepless nights that come with fighting the illness.

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"She just carried herself with a quiet dignity," Fields said.

Elizabeth Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004, a day after the Kerry-Edwards ticket lost to George W. Bush in that year's presidential election. Doctors declared her cancer-free after grueling treatments, but the disease returned in an incurable form in 2007. She died Tuesday.

Her last years were tumultuous ones, made difficult by her husband's affair and eventual admission that he'd fathered a child with the mistress. John and Elizabeth Edwards separated about a year ago.

Associated Press writer Nedra Pickler contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Timeline: Timeline: Elizabeth Edwards

A look at her life, her marriage, her advocacy and her illness.

Msnbc.com political unit | Link |

Explainer: What they're saying about Elizabeth Edwards

  • Image: Elizabeth Edwards at "Stand Up To Cancer"
    Matt Sayles  /  AP
    Elizabeth Edwards, shown at the "Stand Up To Cancer" television event at Sony Studios in Culver City, Calif., Sept. 10, died Tuesday.

    The passing Tuesday of Elizabeth Edwards after a long battle with cancer brought out many remembrances and expressions of sympathy from the political world and elsewhere.

  • President Barack Obama

    Image: President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama
    Ron Edmonds  /  AP
    President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama

    "I came to know and admire Elizabeth over the course of the presidential campaign. She was a tenacious advocate for fixing our health care system and fighting poverty, and our country has benefited from the voice she gave to the cause of building a society that lifts up all those left behind."

  • Vice President Joe Biden

    "Elizabeth Edwards fought a brave battle against a terrible, ravaging disease that takes too many lives every day. She was an inspiration to all who knew her, and to those who felt they knew her. Jill and I extend our deepest sympathies to the Edwards family as they grieve during this difficult and painful time."

  • Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    Image: Secretary Of State Hillary Clinton
    Win Mcnamee  /  Getty Images
    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

    “I am deeply saddened by the passing of Elizabeth Edwards. America has lost a passionate advocate for building a more humane and just society, for reforming our health care system, and for finding a cure for cancer once and for all. But the Edwards family and her legion of friends have lost so much more — a loving mother, constant guardian, and wise counselor. Our thoughts are with the Edwards family at this time, and with all those people across the country who met Elizabeth over the years and found an instant friend — someone who shared their experiences and offered empathy, understanding and hope. She made her mark on America, and she will not be forgotten.”

  • Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

    Image: Sen. John Kerry
    Win Mcnamee  /  Getty Images
    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

    "This is very sad news, and the fact that it isn't a surprise makes it no easier to hear. Elizabeth Edwards was an incredibly loving, giving, and devoted mother, and Teresa and our entire family are grateful for the time we shared getting to know her in 2004. We have many wonderful memories of those days traveling the country and seeing firsthand Elizabeth's great affection for Cate, Jack, and Emma Claire. Today all those moments are rushing back.

    "The same day our campaign ended at Faneuil Hall, we saw Elizabeth head off to Mass General to confront this terrible disease. America came to know her in a different and even more personal way, as she fought back with enormous grace and dignity. She became an inspiration to so many. Teresa and I, along with our family, send our prayers and deepest sympathies to Elizabeth's family and the children she loved so much."

  • Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

    Image: Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
    Gerry Broome  /  AP
    Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.

    "She was a passionate advocate for issues she believed in and a caring and loving mother. Her legacy should serve as an inspiration to all of us. Her life was not without tragedy and adversity, yet through it all she fought for her family and faced every challenge with courage, poise, and grace. Our thoughts and prayers are with her entire family, but particularly her children, Cate, Emma Claire, and Jack."

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
    Michael Reynolds  /  EPA
    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

    "She has stood as a pillar of strength and passion on issues central to our nation's purpose and future: an end to poverty and homelessness; justice for workers and equality for women; and affordable health care for all Americans.

    "For the past six years, she has waged her battle against a terrible disease the same way she fought in the public square — with energy, with tenacity, with dignity, and without fear."

  • Maria Shriver, California first lady

    Image: California first lady Maria Shriver
    Kevork Djansezian  /  Getty Images
    California first lady Maria Shriver

    "Elizabeth was a mighty warrior, and I've long admired her courage, her compassion and her personal quest for truth. She was a public servant, a dedicated mother, a tireless advocate and a loyal friend. She showed up to speak at The Women's Conference every time I asked, and our audience was always moved by the open and honest way she would share the struggles she faced along her journey. I hope her children know their mother was an inspiration to women everywhere — a truly great woman."

  • North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue

    Image: North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue
    Jim R. Bounds  /  AP
    North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue

    "I was saddened to learn of the death of Elizabeth Edwards. North Carolina has lost one of our smartest and most resilient women. My heart goes out to her family."

  • Joe Trippi, longtime Democratic campaign consultant recruited by Elizabeth Edwards to work for her husband in 2008

    Image: Joe Trippi
    Neilson Barnard  /  Getty Images
    Political Strategist Joe Trippi

    "She was out to live every single day. She was going to live every single one of them with all the energy and grit that she could. That's a big lesson that her life could teach all of us."

  • Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., majority leader

    Image: Sen. Harry Reid
    Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
    Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

    "Elizabeth Edwards devoted her life to fighting for those who needed an advocate, and her presence will be sorely missed. She inspired millions with her grace and optimism in the face of personal tragedies, using her own experiences to offer comfort and insight to others."

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