Beau Biden: The story of Joe Biden’s late son

The Delaware attorney general and Iraq War veteran, the president’s eldest son, died in 2015

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 19 October 2023 18:14 BST
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Joe Biden says 'Beau should be the one running for president'

Joe Biden’s personal tragedies have shaped his career, from policy to politicking, learning to mourn as a public figure and relying on his history of loss to reach out to voters, including during his successful 2020 campaign for president.

In December 1972, the former vice president – then a 30-year-old senator-elect from Delaware, weeks away from being sworn into office – lost his first wife Neilia and 13-month-old daughter Naomi in a car accident.

Joseph “Beau” Biden III, an Iraq War veteran and Delaware attorney general, died following a brain cancer diagnosis in 2015. He was 46.

In a statement following his death, his father wrote: “Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”

Beau experienced a stroke in 2010, but three years later he was treated at MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, Texas, where doctors removed a lesion from his brain.

His cancer returned two years later when he received aggressive treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre in Bethesda, Maryland.

He is survived by his wife Hallie and his two children Natalie and Hunter.

Beau was only 3 years old when his mother was killed in the crash that also took the life of his little sister. Beau and his brother Hunter, then 2, were also in the car. Their father was sworn into the US Senate at their hospital beds.

During his 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention, he moved his father to tears while nominating him for vice president.

“One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, dad always at our side. ... He decided not to take the oath of office. He said, ‘Delaware can get another senator, but my boys can’t get another father.’ However, great men like Ted Kennedy, Mike Mansfield, Hubert Humphrey — men who had been tested themselves — convinced him to serve. So he was sworn in, in the hospital, at my bedside,” Beau said.

Beau Biden and Joe Biden are pictured together at the 2008 DNC

In 1977, Joe Biden married Jill Jacobs, who became the boys’ stepmother and helped “rebuild” the family, Beau later said in 2012. “I have two moms now.”

Beau studied at the University of Pennsylvania and attended law school at Syracuse University, where his father also attended.

He served as a prosecutor in the US attorney’s office in Philadelphia before running for attorney general in 2006. He won by 13,000 votes. In his reelection in 2010, he won by more than 149,000 votes.

In 2008, as a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard, Beau was deployed to Iraq during a war effort that then-senator Mr Biden had previously voted to support. Beau briefly returned to the US for his father’s vice-presidential swearing-in ceremony in January 2009, then was shipped out to complete his yearlong service.

As Delaware’s chief law enforcement official, Beau didn’t seek a third term, as he planned to run for governor in 2016, before his health began to rapidly decline.

In a statement following his death, then-president Barack Obama cited a poem by William Butler Yeats, adding: “Beau Biden believed the best of us all ... For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher.”

President Barack Obama hugs Vice President Joe Biden during funeral services for Biden's son, Beau Biden, June 6, 2015

During an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in the lead-up to the 2020 election, then-candidate Mr Biden said, “Beau should be the one running for president, not me.”

Mr Biden recalled Beau’s support on previous campaign trails when his son told him: “Look at me, dad. Remember: home base. Just remember who you are.”

“He’d grab me by the lapel,” Mr Biden said. “He still grabs me by the lapel.”

Mr Biden said: “Every morning I get up, Joe, not a joke, I think to myself, ‘Is he proud of me?’ Because he’s the one who wanted me to stay engaged ... He walks with me. I know that sounds to some people kind of silly, but he really, honest to God, does. I know he’s in me.”

Beau was laid to rest at St. Joseph's on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, where Mr Biden’s late wife Neilia and daughter Naomi are also buried.

This was initially published in 2020

Ariana Baio contributed to this report

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