Elizabeth Edwards has passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. Although I never met Elizabeth, I was proud to share a home state with her. I wasn’t the hugest fan of her husband, but I was upset with him more for leaving his Senate seat vacant and free for a Republican candidate to take years before the stories of his infidelity came to light.

So often, I struggle to find a place to live between my traditional Southern roots and the feminist womanhood I’ve embraced. Elizabeth Edwards was the exact kind of Southern woman I’d like to be – strong, smart, devoted to her family, and resilient. There isn’t a proper way to handle your husband’s public affair when you’re dying slowly from cancer, but Edwards managed to do so with grace. She didn’t hide her feelings of hurt and dismay, but she didn’t come out swinging. She was criticized for refusing to speak aloud the name of the woman who, along with her husband, had hurt her so deeply, but refused to apologize for her feelings.

When I was in high school, I attended a summer program for North Carolina gifted students called Governor’s School. The six-week program takes place on a college campus and students take philosophy and sociology courses in addition to classes in their concentration (English, theater, music, science, whatever). John and Elizabeth’s eldest daughter, Cate, was in the program as well. A guy had a huge crush on Cate and had gone around telling people that his goal was “to hook up with the Senator’s daughter before the end of the summer.” Word got back to Cate, and I’m sure she felt embarrassed by the way that this guy used her name as currency. But I never saw her be anything less than painfully polite to this guy, even though he didn’t deserve it. She never got angry or lashed out. Someone had clearly taught her class, and I have a pretty strong suspicion who it was.

Elizabeth, I’m sorry I never had a chance to run into you at your furniture store. But thanks for making the Tarheel state proud of you, and thanks for giving me a Southern female role model I could look up to.