CHAPEL HILL, NC (RNN) - Elizabeth Edwards, lawyer, author and wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday in her North Carolina home surrounded by her family after a lengthy battle with cancer. She was 61.
Well-known in political circles for her sharp political mind and dogged support of her husband, despite his affair with a campaign staffer, Edwards was survived by three children, two of whom are younger than 13.
"Today, we have lost the comfort of Elizabeth's presence, but she remains the heart of this family," said family members through a statement.
"We love her and will never know anyone more inspiring or full of life.
On behalf of Elizabeth, we would like to express our gratitude to the thousands of kindred spirits who moved and inspired her along the way. Your support and prayers touched our entire family."
The family asked that in lieu of flowers, supporters send donations to the Wade Edwards Foundation, which benefits the Wade Edwards Learning Lab.
Edwards was first diagnosed with cancer in 2004, shortly after her husband's unsuccessful campaign as vice-presidential candidate and Sen. John Kerry's running mate. In 2007, at the start of the 2008 presidential race in which John Edwards was a presidential candidate, the Edwards announced her cancer had returned.
This time, the cancer was Stage 4, the deadliest and final stage.
Despite rumors of her husband's affair and then after proof had emerged, Edwards remained stalwart in her public support of her husband, although the two were separated before her death. In her memoir, Edwards spoke of the trials she suffered after losing her teen-aged son in an automobile accident and through the media scrutiny of her husband's affair.
"In her life, Elizabeth Edwards knew tragedy and pain. Many others would have turned inward; many others in the face of such adversity would have given up," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "But through all that she endured, Elizabeth revealed a kind of fortitude and grace that will long remain a source of inspiration."
Vice President Joe Biden also said Edwards was an inspiration.
"Elizabeth Edwards fought a brave battle against a terrible, ravaging disease that takes too many lives every day," he said.
News of her passage inspired family, friends and contemporaries to engage in an out-flowing of support for her family.
North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr said she was a caring and loving mother who also happened to be a passionate advocate for issued she believed in.
"Her legacy should serve as an inspiration to all of us," he said in a statement. "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."
Her passing was perhaps more sudden than many had expected. Just Monday her family revealed that doctors had advised that further treatment would be unproductive and should cease. She was already surrounded by family.
Before she passed, her family shared a message on behalf of Edwards:
"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces - my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."
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