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.
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