In an interview with ABC News' Peter Jennings, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards spoke candidly about life, loss and how his experiences have shaped his political career.
Following are excerpts from the interview:
ABC News' Peter Jennings: What were you like as a kid?
Sen. John Edwards: Rambunctious, active, nosy, in the middle of everything. I loved sports, always loved sports … and played every kind of sport there was — football, basketball, ran track — I did everything.
Jennings: Did you ever get in trouble when you were a kid?
Edwards: Oh yeah, all the time, all the time. I was always in the middle of something. Of course, I was a kid [laughs] … We lived in a mill village [in North Carolina] and it was a rough neighborhood. It was a place where if you didn't look out for yourself. You'd get run over basically.
Jennings: Was there ever any doubt about you going to college even though neither of your parents did?
Edwards: Oh yeah, lots of doubt. Even when I was in high school, there was a great deal of doubt. If you just get yourself into the mindset of a group of people, where no one has ever gone to college — it's [like] you don't know what to expect. You don't know what it's going to take to get in. You don't know whether you can do the work … it's all unpredictable. So, yeah, literally up until the time I went to college, and then when I went, for me, it was a big change in my life.
Jennings: When you were at college were you at all politically aware? Were you at all politically involved?
Edwards:I would say I started the transition to becoming more socially aware and politically aware. And by the time I got to law school, the transition was really in full bloom. I was, by the time I got to law school, I was interested in politics and interested in what was happening.
Strive for Credibility
Jennings: Why did you want to be a lawyer?
Edwards:I had wanted to be a lawyer — as a dream — since I was young. I think a lot of it was just driven by either from television and from reading. My perception that lawyers could stand up for people, who needed someone to fight for them and stand up for them … I had a Perry Mason idea of what a lawyer was [laughs].
Jennings: I gather you were a hell of a lawyer.
Edwards:I was a pretty good lawyer. Yeah, pretty proud of what I did as a lawyer. I worked extremely hard and took it very personally. Because I had, represented a lot of badly disabled children. And I knew that if I couldn't help them, I mean, no one was ever going to help them. I mean, I struggled and suffered and bled with them. It was very personal for me.
Jennings: Explain what it means to be a really good trial lawyer.
Edwards: It means something very different than most people think.
What it means is hard work, discipline, always being the best prepared person in the courtroom. That doesn't just mean the other lawyer. It means the judge, it means everyone else. Every trial, I learned over time — I didn't know this to begin with — every trial is a battle for credibility. The jury is looking for someone. They want to do the right thing, they're good people. And they're looking for someone in that courtroom that they can trust. And that trust doesn't just include being honest and straightforward with them. It also includes understanding what you're doing. I mean, it's, it's all well and good that they like you but they're not going to follow you if they don't think you know where to go, that … you understand the subject matter. So I think that the single most important thing in every trial is credibility. And it's the thing that you have to earn. And if you ever lose it you can't get it back.
Jennings: Tell me about your wife.
Edwards: Elizabeth and I met in law school. We met the first year. She was strikingly beautiful and one of the strongest people — men or women — I had ever met.
Jennings: Was she difficult to court?
Edwards:Yes she was — she wasn't interested (laughs). That's why she was difficult to court. I mean, you have to understand, she was the daughter of a Navy officer, a Navy pilot. They had lived all over the world. And here was this country hick from, you know, a small town in North Carolina, which I'm sure is exactly what she thought of me. And what in the world would we have in common? In fact, most of our classmates were shocked when they found out we were going out and even more shocked when we got married.
Jennings: Now tell me about the rest of your family.
Edwards: Elizabeth and I have had four children. Wade, our oldest child … died when he was 16 in 1996. A wonderful, wonderful boy. And my daughter Kate, who is my second, is now a senior in college. I'm very proud of Kate. She's doing great. And when Wade died, Elizabeth and I decided to try to have more kids. So we have a 5-year-old, Emma Claire, and a 3-year-old, Jack.
Our entire life, Elizabeth and mine, [our] lives had been built around family. We did everything with our kids. I mean, I'd coach my kids in soccer and basketball. All of our trips were together. Elizabeth and I didn't take vacations away from our children. We couldn't be happy; we were happy when we were with our kids.
And when Wade died, it felt to me for multiple reasons it was the right thing to do. We could never replace Wade. I mean he was such an important part of our life, and he is still part, an important part of my life. But having, having two other kids helped bring joy into our family.
I mean one of the great [things] that I loved about my son was, for a 16-year-old, he had a remarkable understanding of what mattered … it was a devastating event and something that never goes away.