When I first moved to Carolina, about 10 years ago, one of the delights was getting to know Elizabeth and John a bit. The three of us went to lunch and dinner a bunch of times. They were also generous donors to the law school.
The discussions would usually concentrate on the contested political issues of the moment. I'd argue that the senator should take various, surely unreasonably liberal, positions. John would remind me that I knew how to lose elections, not win them. And, if he followed my advice, all we knew for sure was that he'd be a one-term senator. And then Elizabeth would invariably pierce through to the merits. Sometimes, after a little give and take, she'd give me this sly grin. Then I'd always let it drop—certain she'd eventually carry the day with the senator. And usually she did. All three of us knew Elizabeth was the smartest one at the table.
She was tough, but also generous and funny. When I moved back from Virginia, after having had something of a rough go at William & Mary, Elizabeth reached out in very touching ways. And when she talked about standing up for what you believe in, you knew she meant it. And she knew what she was talking about. She didn't take herself too seriously.
Once we were doing a law school event in D.C. and the Edwardses [both law schools grads] were the guests of honor. Elizabeth was coming in from New York and her plane was delayed by snow. But she knew how important it was, for us, that she make the reception. So she came directly from the airport instead of going home first as she'd planned. When she got there, she told me she'd been worried about coming straight over because it was a fancy gala and she didn't have any nice clothes with her in New York. She said she'd gone into a store down the street and bought the only pair of pants she could find. The problem was, she showed me, they were about 8 inches too long. So as she spoke to the crowd, she held her pants up with both hands.
Gene Nichol is director of the UNC School of Law's Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity.