Bobbie and Wallace

Bobbie and Wallace Edwards

Almost eight years ago on an early July morning, I got into my Honda CRV and raced like the wind towards Robbins, North Carolina.
It’s a small town east of Charlotte where John Edwards’ parents, Wallace and Bobbie, lived. I wanted to see firsthand the excitement about their son being named as John Kerry’s running mate.
They were simple folks and lived in a comfortable but modest house — considering that their son was a successful trial lawyer, a U.S. senator and now a vice-presidential candidate.
But despite his own success, John Edwards had always called himself a champion of regular people. He was the son of a mill worker who worked hard to support his family in the Deep South.
It all showed in Bobbie and Wallace.
They were simple, down-to-earth people who were fiercely proud of their son.
Bobbie opened the door for me and when she found out I had driven all the way from Atlanta, she welcomed me in.
They were sitting down to dinner and had the television set tuned to CNN to watch their Johnny. They graciously asked me to join them.
“We weren’t absolutely sure it would be him until this morning,” Bobbie said.
The morning announcement was emotionally overwhelming. After that, they had tried to go about their day as routinely as possible. But, of course, their emotions leaped out of their hearts
“It just doesn’t seem real, ” Wallace told me.
He said that when his son talked about the values instilled in him, he wasn’t just spewing rhetoric.
Last week, I looked a photographs of John Edwards escorting his parents into the federal courthouse in Greensboro, North Carolina. The man who’d been hailed once as a populist candidate had fallen so far from grace, accused of conspiring to secretly obtain thousands of dollars from wealthy supporters to hide his affair with videographer Rielle Hunter.
His wife of many years, Elizabeth, lost her battle with cancer and is no longer here to see John Edwards lowest moment before the public.
His daughter, Cate, who has been by his side all along had to leave the courtroom one day last week when a former aide described a moment when Elizabeth found out about the affair in the National Enquirer. She confronted her husband at an airport, ripping open her blouse in front of staff members.
Bobbie and Wallace stand by their son but I can imagine the agony inside being just as strong as was the excitement on that July day in 2004.
John Edwards proved to be more disappointing to me than any other politician, perhaps because I felt so betrayed. I had written countless stories about a man I once perceived as genuine. 
Now, I feel sorry. Not for him but for Bobbie and Wallace, who raised him to be a good man. Even if he is found not guilty, his name is marred forever and his parents will end their lives with that painful knowledge.


I was working at a table at the outdoor cafe at the Plaza Hotel in Port-au-Prince when the news hit my BlackBerry. “CNN confirms Elizabeth Edwards dies.”

My heart sank the way it would at the news of the passing of a friend. Just the night before, I’d fallen asleep to images of Elizabeth — Anderson Cooper was reporting that she was near death.

A burst of emotions overcame me because for all the stuff you hear about a politician’s wife, all the drama she had been through in the last few years, I remembered a reporter covering her first presidential campaign who was taken with the down-to-earth nature of Mrs. Edwards.

On a frigid winter day, I was among the crowd at the Manchester Public Library at a Edwards campaign stop. John Edwards introduced his wife on stage. Elizabeth, standing just behind her husband in a black pantsuit, stepped forward on the stage and waved to an enthusiastic audience.

“That’s his wife?” asked a woman in the crowd. “She looks so real.” She was not the trophy wife everyone had expected of the candidate known for his good looks and charm.

“I was 25 years old when I first met John Edwards, ” she said when he announced his candidacy a few months before. “He was earnest and energetic and unashamedly sweet. He was principled and wildly intelligent, and he was a tremendously warm person. Twenty-nine years later, John Edwards is exactly the same person. To my great chagrin, he also looks exactly the same.”

But many of her supporters saw her as the smarter of the two. They viewed her as the backbone of the campaign.

“Sometimes I see him getting bombarded with information, so I will tell him to be himself and not to forget to smile,” she told me in an interview I did for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I’ll be the ballast for. . .the people whose job it is to download information to him.”

She told me about the time she met John, how it was not love at first sight, how he eventually swept her off her feet. “He was nice enough,” she said. “Pleasant. But it never occurred to me that he might be the person I would spend a quarter century-plus with.”

But when he leaned over and kissed her gently on the forehead to say goodbye, she was smitten.

It never occurred to us that he would have an affair, father a child with another woman while he was running for president in the next go around. Not after everything she had given on the campaign trail. She had even thought about how she would behave if she got into the White House.

“You get a megaphone as first lady, ” she said. “You have to use it responsibly, but you also have an obligation to use it or the betterment of the country.”

Elizabeth Edwards never got that chance. But I am thinking of her words now as I await results of the Haitian presidential election. And I’m glad I came home from the 2004 Democratic convention with a sign that simply said: Elizabeth.

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