CNN Wire Staff
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) - More than 1,200 mourners, including hundreds who loved and admired Elizabeth Edwards from a distance, packed a Raleigh church Saturday to pay respects to the activist and estranged wife of a failed aspirant to the presidency.
The mourners included Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who in 2004 picked Edwards' husband, John, to be his vice presidential running mate in an unsuccessful bid for the White House. John and Elizabeth Edwards separated earlier this year after the former North Carolina senator admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock while the couple was married.
John Edwards entered the church just prior to the start of the 1 p.m. service, holding hands with the Edwards' three children, Jack, Emma and Cate.
The funeral opened with a eulogy from Elizabeth Edwards' longtime friend Hargrave McElroy, who made the audience laugh with tales of Elizabeth's competitive nature, particularly with games. She also noted Edwards' love of Christmas, describing how the Edwards family, including John Edwards, decorated their Christmas tree last Saturday, just three days before she died after a long battle with breast cancer at the age of 61.
In addition to McElroy's eulogy, another friend, Glenn Bergenfield, and Edwards' daughter Cate were expected to speak.
Others expected to attend includedNorth Carolina Gov. Ben Perdue; U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-North Carolina); Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy; John Podesta, a former Clinton administration chief of staff and current head of the Center for American Progress; members of North Carolina's congressional delegation; and more than 100 former campaign staffers.
It was a public ceremony because Edwards was known for insisting, much to the dismay of staffers, that all of her events be open to the public, according to a friend. Supporters say that even though a public funeral might usher some chaos to the event, this is what Edwards would have wanted.
Other public mourners included as many 150 supporters who gathered a few blocks away from the church for a counter-demonstration against a group of picketers from the controversial Westboro Baptist Church.
The Kansas-based congregation is known for its extremist opposition against homosexuals, Jews and other groups and regularly holds protests at funerals for fallen U.S. service members, saying the war's dead are God's punishment for the country tolerating gays and lesbians.
In the end, only five Westboro congregants showed for the protest, which took place in a cold, steady rain.
CNN Wire Staff
Raleigh, North Carolina (CNN) - As mourners gather to commemorate the life of Elizabeth Edwards on Saturday afternoon, picketers from a Kansas-based church - along with counter-protesters - could change the mood outside the funeral.
Edwards, the estranged wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, died Tuesday after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. She was 61.
Related video: Elizabeth Edwards in her own words
Representatives for the Edwards family confirmed that the service will be held at the Edenton Street United Methodist Church in Raleigh, where the Edwards family worships. The 1 p.m. funeral, which will be open to the public, will include eulogies from daughter Cate Edwards and longtime friends Hargrave McElroy and Glenn Bergenfield.
Edwards will then be buried at Raleigh's Historic Oakwood Cemetery, according to office manager Sharon Freed. Earlier this week, Freed told CNN about the proximity of the burial to Edwards' son Wade, who was buried at the cemetery after dying in a 1996 car crash.
"He is already interred there in a space. And she will be interred there beside him," Freed said.
Tom Foreman | BIO
Reporter's Note: President Obama was joined by former president Clinton as he argued for his tax legislation. I, on the other hand, write my letters to the White House on my own.
Dear Mr. President,
Quite a week, wasn’t it? All that hand wringing and chest beating by the liberal wing of your party was a sight to see.
I understand why they feel put upon. Just scant months ago, they clearly thought that they had the political wind in their sails and after many, many years of waiting they were embarking on a great journey with you as their skipper. When they chanted “Yes, we can” you could hear the echoes that followed, “change the way the government operates, rid ourselves of those maddening Republicans, slap the conservatives back into their corner, and create the great liberal society for which we have longed.”
Now they are becalmed; the rigging of their ship in tatters, and there you go off on the lifeboat with the help of Captain Bill Clinton. That would make anyone crazy.
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