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Posted at 10:20 AM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Profiling Elizabeth Edwards

By Annys Shin

When a famous person dies, I'm always reminded of the differences between a tribute, an obituary, and a profile. Regardless of the format, the best writers are able to sum up a person's life without veering into hagiography or skipping over messy details.

If any subject warranted even-handedness and respect, it was Elizabeth Edwards -- the wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards -- who died Tuesday at the age of 61 after a long battle with cancer. Cable news outlets kicked off the process by which the public digests the passing of notable people with a constant barrage of commentary and images of Edwards, with her children or her husband, in better times.

Toward the end of her life, Edwards was not always able to control her public image and she came to be defined not by her prior career as a lawyer but as a cancer patient and the wronged wife of a philandering husband. Depictions of her ranged from dutiful and resilient to shrill and demanding.

The one benefit of having been in the public eye for so long, however, is that she was written about often while she was alive. If you want to compare a contemporaneous portrait of her with the posthumous ones, here is a profile of her from the St. Pete Times (hat tip to

By Annys Shin  | December 8, 2010; 10:20 AM ET
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