New monument marks Elizabeth Edwards' grave

jshaffer@newsobserver.comApril 24, 2014 

— Nearly four years after her death, Elizabeth Edwards has a towering monument to mark her grave – a pair of outstretched hands carved from white marble, 27 doves flying from the palms.

The 8-foot marble sculpture, commissioned by the family of the late Raleigh lawyer and wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, is the work of Robert Mihaly, the same artist who created the angel standing over the grave of the Edwardses’ son, Wade.

Mihaly spent a year on the Elizabeth Edwards memorial, now one of the most unique in Oakwood Cemetery, the resting place of governors and generals which regularly draws crowds on Segway tours.

“It came to me like a visual image,” said Mihaly, 47. “A little bit of peace for Elizabeth, who like everyone could use some. Something about letting go.”

But the artist conceded: “She wouldn’t want anything so elaborate.”

Edwards died in 2010 after a six-year fight with cancer. She had already become a national figure thanks to her appearances on the campaign trail in 2004, when her husband ran on the Democratic ticket as running mate to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, and again in 2008 when he dropped out of the primary field as a presidential candidate.

Her approachable, down-to-earth image won her many fans. Her strength through disease and her husband’s infidelity earned respect. And her active participation in John Edwards’ campaigns helped move the role of candidates’ wives from pretty faces in the background. She was the self-proclaimed “anti-Barbie.”

In the years after her death, visitors to Oakwood frequently asked to see her marker, knowing her story and wanting to pay small tribute. It’s easy to spot the graves of other famous Raleigh figures: U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, N.C. State University basketball coach Jim Valvano.

In 2012, the Edwards family issued this statement to The Associated Press: “Given the importance of the gravesite to Elizabeth’s family and the people who loved her and visit the site, the family has taken the time and thought to ensure this site is particularly special and reflects Elizabeth’s life and memory.”

Mihaly, who sculpted “Wade’s Angel” after the 16-year-old died in a car accident in 1996, was chosen for the new project. Elizabeth Edwards had been “enchanted and confused” by the “weird and wonderful” artist, according to her memoir, “Saving Graces.” The whole family, but especially daughter Cate Edwards, commissioned the new work.

Mihaly has created sculpture for the Bank of America building in Charlotte, gargoyles for the Duke University campus and a miniature castle in Rougemont – his onetime studio.

In 2010, Mihaly visited the cancer-stricken Elizabeth and asked whether she had any thoughts on a memorial.

She was weak, Mihaly remembered, but Edwards told him that whatever monument he created, she wanted it joined to Wade’s with ivy made of stone. That part will likely come later.

“That’s really where the pathos is,” he said. “A century from now, somebody will put their hand to their mouth and say, ‘Aww.’ 

Mihaly said he will likely work on the sculpture for another few weeks. Soon, visitors will see Mihaly’s memorials paired together.

“It’s such a beautiful remembrance,” said Robin Simonton, the cemetery’s executive director. “It gives people an opportunity to walk past and reflect on their own life, and how they’d like to be remembered.”

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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