Get to Know John Edwards

"When I was born, we were poor," John Edwards said. "My father had to borrow money from somebody, $50, to get me and my mother out of the hospital."

From that day, he was on a path from one America to another.

Early Life

Edwards was born June 10, 1953, in Seneca, S.C., to Bobbi and Wallace Edwards, a textile-mill worker. Money was often an issue for Edwards' working class parents. For a good part of his childhood, the family moved around from one small town to the next.

Charles Gibson spoke with Edwards as part of an ABC News series called "Who Is," which features one interview a week with a presidential candidate from now until December, with a focus on their private lives.


By the time Edwards was in seventh grade, his family had settled in Robbins, N.C., population: 1,000.

"I felt comfortable there. I liked the life that I lived there," Edwards said. "I had a lot of people around me saying, 'You gotta go to college. Otherwise you're going to be doing [mill work] the rest of your life.'"

Edwards did eventually step out on his own and attended Clemson University and later North Carolina State University, where he majored in textiles.

"If you grow up the way I grew up, you thought of college as a way to get a job, not an intellectual exercise," Edwards said. "And so, the whole idea was to get a degree in something that would allow me to support my family."

Love and Law School

However, Edwards also dreamed of going to law school even though his only reference points were television shows like "Perry Mason" and "The Defenders." As a young boy, Edwards even wrote a school essay on how he'd like to be a lawyer when he grew up, citing in his paper, "The important reason is to help protect innocent people."

After working several odd jobs cleaning the floor of a textile mill, unloading a UPS truck and building mobile homes, Edwards was accepted into the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law. However, it was not an easy transition for Edwards.

"I thought, 'I don't belong here. I don't belong here. What am I doing here?' And so I dealt with it the same way I dealt with everything, in the beginning of my life -- I just worked harder," Edwards said. "As hard as I knew how. And that's how I dealt with the feeling that those around me were smarter and better than me."

While at the University of North Carolina, Edwards fell in love with a fellow law student, Mary Elizabeth Anania, who happened to be four years older than Edwards.

"I can't even remember how many times I asked her out before she finally said yes, and I think she did it out of pity, honestly, more than anything else," Edwards said. "I mean, she was fascinating. When I got to know her better, I found out that she was an extraordinary human being."

The couple married in 1977 and had two children soon afterward -- Wade in 1979 and Cate in 1982.

Edwards went on to work for large corporate law firms and built a lucrative career as a trial lawyer.

"I didn't measure it just by making money, although that was certainly the easiest perimeter to look at. But I think was hungrier to be good at what I was doing. That's what drove me," Edwards said.

"When I was in the law firms that I worked in, I was almost inevitably the person who worked the most hours. And I don't think what drove me to that was the idea that that would equate with money. I think what drove me to it was a desire to be the best at what I was doing."

Wade's Death

On April 4, 1996, Edwards' eldest son, Wade, only 16 at the time, was killed in a car accident while driving to the family's beach house.

"In the beginning, it {permeated} everything. There wasn't 20 minutes that went by in a day, that I wasn't thinking about it, and being extraordinarily sad," Edwards said. "It makes you think more about what you're spending your life doing -- whether you're actually spending your life in service of others, in service of the greater good. It makes you examine yourself."

After Wade's death, Edwards began to seriously consider running for office.

"Having gone through the experience makes me empathize more with others, who have gone through similar experiences. Having been through this, it makes me think about whether I'm in fact doing the things I can do to affect the world around me in a positive way," Edwards said.

"I did have the feeling for some years that I wanted to take what I was doing and do it for more people."

In 1998, Edwards won a seat in the U.S. Senate and, just a few years later in 2004, he took the leap and ran for president.

During this time, there were also two new additions to the Edwards family -- Emma Claire, who was born in 1998, and Jack, born in 2000.

Edwards' Second Run

Now in his second race for the presidency, Edwards is faced with a new challenge after learning Elizabeth's cancer has spread again and is incurable.

"I mean, it's always there," Edwards said. "I think it's sometimes hard to see the strength and toughness that I carry inside me all the time. It's hard to see how I deal with crisis in very difficult times."

Still, with his wife's blessing, Edwards has continued on with his campaign.

"When I was running in the nomination process in 2003 and 2004, I'd spend most of my time thinking about being a candidate. And since that time, I've spent most of my time thinking about what I'd want to do as President. And those two things are not the same," Edwards said.