She is already missed

I write this with tear-stained cheeks and a heavy, heavy heart.  I just watched Cate Edwards deliver a beautiful eulogy for her inspiring mother.  The love in that family is palpable — even as I sit in dreary Madison and watch the Raleigh event on television.  Cate’s words were lovingly chosen and she has a grace about her that she clearly learned from her mother.  I weep for those children’s loss, and for my own.

John Edwards became my favorite national candidate (behind Feingold) in 2004.  I admired him for so many reasons — for his commitment to the poor and his family, for his intelligence and humor and for, most of all maybe, being a lawyer that made me proud to call myself one, as well.  I have never understood the campaign against the “ambulance chaser” and how that gained such traction, but I have to admit that people I love and respect seem to have fallen under its spell.  Of course, the idea of an “ambulance chaser,” while maybe not deplorable to me, is certainly not an admirable image, I also think that it is more fiction than reality.  Or maybe, rather, that it is just a much smaller portion of lawyers — even the dreaded trial laywer — than it is perceived to be.  In any event, Edwards’ competitors saddled him with the label “ambulance chaser” and “trial lawyer” and it stuck.  And this drove me crazy. 

First, the fact that there is a notion that being a trial lawyer is somehow reprehensible is beyond odd to me.  Trial lawyers are people who try cases.  How there is something inherently sketchy or evil in that is nonsensical unless, I suppose, you are someone who does not think that there should ever be a trial on something.  I don’t know how this would work out — I suppose you could be an anarchist or a dictator and have this view, but the judicial system in this country is a pretty great bedrock of our free society.  The trial system is, in my opinion, a pretty simple and fair system of solving disputes — from small claims disputes to murder charges.  I can’t really comprehend a better way of solving these problems than a trial.  So, there’s that.  Second, the idea that because Edwards is a plaintiffs-side civil litigator he is an “ambulance chaser,” as opposed to a hero of the people, just shows to me how much Big Medicine or Big Business or Big Anything Else has been able to write our social and political discourse.  The reality is that Edwards represented people and families who had been harmed by big money organizations.  We are not talking about a doctor who made a mistake and admitted it.  We are talking about companies who engaged — knowingly — in practices that would eventually harm consumers because it was cheaper for them to continue to engage in that behavior than to fix what they knew was wrong.  Edwards’ cases were modern-day Ford Pinto litigation.  For example, Edwards sued a company that made drains for swimming pools because one day that drain, literally, disembowled a five-year-old girl.  Disemboweled her.  While her father looked on.  The company knew there was a serious safety issue with the drain, but failed to fix it.  To me, Edwards was a hero for his work, not the evil, greedy, slimy attorney his critics made him out to be.  Sure, he got rich.  Really rich.  But he got rich for working incredibly hard and for representing poor clients and taking on big industry.

So, I admired Edwards greatly for his work.  And I admired his ideas on repealing NAFTA and addressing — when no one else but Nader was — poverty.  He talked about the poor — not just the middle class or the lower middle class, but the poor. 

I read his book, Five Trials.  It isn’t a great work of literature, but it offers great insight into trial litigation.  And it offered great insight into his relationship with Elizabeth.  It is clear that he became enamored of her early in law school because of her beauty and her amazing intellect.  Their love story moved me.

And then he did what he did.  And then he denied it.  And then he was forced to admit it.  And then came the divorce.  And then came the books.  And then came the lawsuits.  And it all crumbled.

But Elizabeth didn’t crumble.  She took her time to decide what was best for her children.  It is clear she put them before any decision she would make for herself.  She did not act out of ego or humility.  She eventually divorced the man she had been marrried to and loved for 30 years, but she did it quietly and thoughtfully.  She had all of America on her side with that divorce, but she didn’t need it. 

Much has been written (mostly by men, I believe) about Elizabeth’s bossiness and bitchiness, but I don’t buy it for a second.  Yes, she probably snapped a time or two in her life and it probably happened on the campaign trail with others around, but so what.  Who hasn’t?  And who wouldn’t in that kind of fishbowl?  I think the criticism of Elizabeth has always felt petty and, well, outdated.  She was an educated, bright, successful woman.  It just wasn’t in her personality to nod demurely or stay silent.  I imagine the criticism comes from the fact that she probably asserted herself into more conversations than John’s cadre wanted her to — and I imagine this is because she probably elevated the conversations, making them more complicated than the cadre cared for.  But, I realize, I’m speculating.

I know that I don’t know and didn’t know Elizabeth Edwards.  I know that I have seen things that don’t show the whole picture and read things that are probably not true.  But I also know that I just saw her beautiful, poised, thoughtful daughter give a moving, funny, sweet, loving tribute to her.  And in that tribute, I felt a daughter’s love and saw what must have been a mother’s pride.  I think that she was an incredible woman that I wish could have stayed with us longer.

4 Responses to “She is already missed”


  1. 1 Raoser December 12, 2010 at 11:01 am

    What a beautiful tribute. She will be deeply missed. And while I don’t know her either, I agree that she was likely misrepresented and misunderstood as a smart, strong woman with questions. That’s often a very threatening personality for men in her arena.

    She was clearly an inspiration to many, and her legacy will live on as will her words. I know will always think twice before choosing a pattern over a solid.

  2. 2 kateandgracie December 12, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I love that adage about prints v solids! So wise!

  3. 3 Mary December 13, 2010 at 11:30 am

    bravo for a wonderful tribute. I hope somehow the family gets to see it. From your very proud mother….love always.

  4. 4 Heather December 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm

    I feel like I didn’t get to know her as well as you did, but I do miss her, and wish I knew her better.


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