Beau Biden: Lawyer and public servant who overcame family tragedy to follow his father, the US Vice-President, into politics

He helped launch Delaware's Child Predator Task Force, directly targeting child abusers, and promoted initiatives to reduce juvenile crime and save homes from repossession

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The Independent Online

American political life is all about the family. Whether at county, state or at national level, it is the idea that remains at the heart of campaigns and dominates the political arena. Beau Biden, the former Attorney General of Delaware, who has died of cancer at the age of 46, epitomised this commitment to put the family first, just as his father, Vice-President Joe Biden, had done before him.

Joseph "Beau" Biden was born in 1969 in Wilmington, Delaware, the oldest son of Joe, then a practising lawyer and aspiring politician, and Neilia Hunter. The couple had met on holiday in the Bahamas in 1964 and married two years later.

Tragedy struck the Biden family in 1972 when Beau's mother and his sister, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. Joe Biden, who had narrowly won the Delaware Senate seat, remembered: "Things can change in a heartbeat. I know. Six weeks after my election my whole world was altered forever. While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call. My wife and three children were Christmas shopping, a tractor-trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter. And they weren't sure that my sons would live."

Beau was then aged three, his brother, Hunter, two. Their father commuted four hours a day between his Washington office and the hospital in Wilmington, Delaware, to be with his sons. Having at first wavered over even taking the oath of office, he was eventually sworn in, in a ceremony that was held beside his son's hospital bed.

"One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, Dad always at our side," Beau recalled. "We, not the Senate, were all he cared about." Patrick Leahy, Democrat Senator for Vermont, said, "I know the tragedy his family's gone through. I cherished time with his office right near mine when his sons Beau and Hunter would be there with him. I watched them grow up. I saw Beau Biden become the epitome of what a state's attorney general should be."

When Joe Biden began a new life with Jill Jacobs, a teacher, it was the young boys' turn to support their father. "Five years later," said Beau, "We, my brother, dad, and I, married my mom Jill. And they together rebuilt our family."

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1991 and went on to Syracuse University College of Law, following in his father's footsteps. After clerking for the District Judge Stephen J McAuliffe, Biden joined the US Justice Department in its Office of Policy Development. There he worked on issues related to gun law, domestic violence and child abuse.

Biden stood for election in 2006 as Delaware Attorney General and won by 13,000 votes. In his new role he helped launch the state's Child Predator Task Force, directly targeting child abusers, and promoted initiatives to reduce juvenile crime and save homes from repossession. His effectiveness and popularity were proven four years later when, standing for a second term, he garnered a 149,000 margin, taking 79 per cent of the votes.

In 2008 Biden's National Guard unit was deployed to Iraq. His father had voted in favour of the 2003 invasion, but had also spoken out against his son's involvement. "I don't want him going", Senator Biden said, "But I tell you what, I don't want my grandson or my granddaughters going back in 15 years, and so how we leave makes a big difference."

Just before leaving for Iraq, Beau took time out to support his father, introducing him at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. In a moving speech that is now remembered as a highlight of his political career, he spoke of his father's commitment to home life, saying, "Even though Dad worked in Washington he's never been part of Washington."

Biden suffered a mild stroke in 2010 and in 2013 was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In August that year he underwent an operation to remove a lesion on his brain. Three months later doctors said that he was clear of cancer. Having served two terms as Delaware's attorney general and despite health concerns, he announced last year that he would not stand for re-election and would instead run for state governor in 2016.

President Barack Obama led the tributes. "Beau took after Joe," he said. "He studied the law, like his dad, even choosing the same law school. He chased a life of public service, like his dad, serving in Iraq and as Delaware's Attorney General. Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched – and he lives on in their hearts. But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder; nothing made him happier; nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family. Just like his dad."

Joseph "Beau" Robinette Biden III, lawyer and politician: born Wilmington, Delaware 3 February 1969; married 2002 Hallie (one daughter, one son); died Bethesda, Maryland 30 May 2015.