Elizabeth Edwards, Cathy Seipp

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The pan-partisan support and well-wishes for Mrs. Edwards has have been heartening to see — the other side of the political aisle has seen a similarly gracious if less highly visible wave of sympathy for the untimely passing of columnist Cathy Seipp. I didn’t know Cathy well, but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that both women have been valued for the passion, genuineness and sense of humor that they have brought to national debates. Cathy will be missed, let’s hope Elizabeth Edwards keeps fighting.

I don’t know Elizabeth Edwards particularly well either, but she is responsible for one of my favorite, almost completely atypical, Washington moments. My husband and I struck up a conversation with her at a book party shortly after the election. She was, as most will tell you, animated and interested, very knowledgeable about blogs and quick to laugh. After a bit, she asked if we’d “like to meet John.” (Husband and I had hung back, as Edwards was receiving a long line of admirers.) We at first demurred but she sort of pulled us to the head of the informal line and said, “John, I’d like you to meet…” and introduced us.

Anyone who’s been around politicians when they’re on the job would have recognized the somewhat frozen smile and half-glassy eyes that Edwards then turned on us. He’s got charisma, but he’s human, and you can’t get through years of shaking hands with strangers without developing the ability to do it by rote. But Elizabeth saw that same automatic gesture and she cut him off mid-“how do you do?”

She hit him gently on the arm in a loving, spousal way. “No, John,” she said, “I want you to meet them.” He looked at her, a little surprised I think, and then broke into a genuine smile as she re-introduced us. It was the difference between shaking hands with a stranger and shaking hands with a friend of a friend. I feel very lucky to have met someone with such heartfelt charm, and I don’t mean John.