WHEN JOHN EDWARDS WAS 11, HE WROTE A SCHOOL ESSAY IN WHICH HE VOWED TO "PROTECT INNOCENT PEOPLE FROM BLIND JUSTICE THE BEST
I CAN." He laughs today about his misunderstanding of the concept. He was heavily influenced, he says, by repeated viewings of "Perry Mason," and his favorite TV show, "The Fugitive. " But that may have been one of the first inklings that Edwards was headed for a legal career.
Law school proved fortuitous for Edwards in more ways than one. It was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that he met his future wife, Elizabeth Anania, the daughter of a decorated Navy pilot who had spent her early years in Japan. Both graduated with honors, and they were married on July 30, 1977, a few days after taking the bar exam. After a one-night honeymoon, she headed to Norfolk to clerk for a federal judge, and he headed to Raleigh to do the same.
As a trial lawyer, he won $3.7 million for a man who had been given a huge overdose of a drug used to treat alcoholism -- one of his earliest victories. In 1997, he won $25 million for a 5-year-old girl who lost part of her intestines when a swimming pool drain cover came loose.
Edwards would admit later that as he spoke in court about the girl's medical struggles, he also was thinking about his son Wade, who had died in a 1996 car accident at age 16. "A voice inside me was speaking, too, of the lovely years my son had lost," he wrote.
Wade's death prompted a change in direction for the Edwards family. John Edwards entered politics, beating an incumbent Republican to win a U.S. Senate seat in 1998. He ran a spirited but unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004. The eventual winner, Sen. John F. Kerry, selected Edwards as his running mate.
After Wade's death, Elizabeth Edwards quit her job to stay home with daughter Cate, now 25, and later gave birth to two more children, Emma Claire, now 9, and Jack, now 7. Earlier this year, Elizabeth announced that her cancer, first diagnosed in 2004, had returned. But the family agreed that John would continue his pursuit of the White House.
-- Sue Anne Pressley Montes