When her husband, Jay Monahan, died in 1998, Today cohost Katie Couric wrote a eulogy and had her oldest sister Emily read the tribute at his funeral. “In essence she was saying, ‘You be my voice for me,'” says FOX News Channel anchor Linda Vester, one of Katie’s former colleagues. On Oct. 22 Katie had to be her own voice to eulogize Emily, who four days earlier had died, at 54, of pancreatic cancer. “Emily found it mildly annoying when she was asked, ‘Are you Katie Couric’s sister?'” the news-woman recalled before the more than 1,000 people who turned out at St. Paul’s Memorial Church near Emily’s home in Charlottesville, Va. “The truth is, I’ve always been and forever will be so proud to say I am Emily Couric’s sister.”
Katie, 44, paid tribute to Emily, a Virginia state senator, as “the personification of excellence.” Mourners-including former U.S. Senator Chuck Robb of Virginia, Katie’s Today cohost Matt Lauer and the rest of the Couric clan—mother Elinor, 78, father John, 81, sister Clara, 51, and brother John, 47—heard Emily depicted as a considerate woman and mother whose fight against cancer inspired political colleagues, constituents and family members alike. Emily’s son Jeff Wadlow, 25, a filmmaker who had a small part in Pearl Harbor, asked, “If you were told you had less than a year to live, what would you do differently? My mom didn’t change a thing. On some level she knew there was nothing to improve.” Oldest son Dr. Ray Wadlow, 28, summoned Emily’s compassionate nature. “When I would complain about someone particularly difficult to admire,” he said, “she would insist that I identify one thing about that person I liked, respected or found interesting, and thereafter focus on that.”
For Katie the loss was a particularly painful blow, coming less than four years after Monahan’s death from colon cancer. “Emily had many admirers, none more so than Katie,” says friend Barbara Harrison, a news anchor at the NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. Vester, who once lived down the block from Katie on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, recalls how the sisters used to stroll together around the neighborhood when Emily visited. “They would have smiles on their faces, listening intently to each other,” she says. “They had that look of shared jokes and shared history.”
Until her cancer diagnosis, Emily had been seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia and was widely touted to become the state’s first female governor in 2005. The twice-married pol had written two books on the law and, following Monahan’s death, championed legislation that made Virginia the first state to require health insurers to cover the costs of colorectal exams. “She showed me that politics is about people, not self-gain,” said her brother John, an accountant, in his eulogy.
After her sister’s diagnosis 15 months ago, Katie, the youngest of the four Couric children, made frequent trips to the home Emily shared with cardiologist George Beller, 60, her husband of 20 years, and helped track down experimental treatments. With a regimen that included chemotherapy, green tea and gargling with salt water, Emily was among the small fraction of pancreatic cancer patients who survive more than a year. As Katie (who friends say has been leaning on her boyfriend, TV producer Tom Werner, 51) told the assembled mourners: “She taught me not about dying but about living. Her courage and spirit are legendary.”
J. Todd Foster in Charlottesville and KC Baker in New York City