Beau Biden: 'He made you want to be a better person'

Washington officials and Biden family members gathered Saturday to honor and share stories about Beau Biden. 'Your problems were Beau’s problems,' his brother said. 'But he seemed to carry them so effortlessly.'

Kevin Lamarque/AP
President Barack Obama hugs Vice President Joe Biden after delivering the eulogy during funeral services for Biden's son, Beau Biden, Saturday at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Del.

At St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington Saturday, Beau Biden – son of Vice President Joe Biden – was remembered by high officials and family members as a man of extraordinary accomplishment and, above all, of tremendous heart.

“He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146,” President Obama said. “He left nothing in the tank.  He was a man who led a life where the means were as important as the ends. And the example he set made you want to be a better dad, or a better son, or a better brother or sister, better at your job, the better soldier.”

“He made you want to be a better person,” Mr. Obama said, sometimes struggling to maintain his composure. “Isn’t that finally the measure of a man – the way he lives, how he treats others, no matter what life may throw at him?”

Beau Biden’s life had begun in tragedy, when his mother and younger sister were killed in an automobile accident which seriously injured Beau and his younger brother Hunter. For years, then-Sen. Joe Biden would commute back and forth between Washington and the suburbs of Wilmington to be with his young sons.

But as Monitor White House reporter Linda Feldmann wrote the other day, Beau Biden was more than just the beloved son of a prominent public figure.

“In an age of sky-high cynicism over politicians and political institutions, he exemplified public service at its finest,” Feldmann wrote. “He was a man willing to serve his state and his country, at times eschewing the more comfortable path.”  

After college (the University of Pennsylvania) and law school (Syracuse University), he worked at the US Justice Department, including as a federal prosecutor. After two years in private practice, he won the 2006 election as attorney general of Delaware, where he served two terms before announcing last year that he would run for governor in 2016.

As attorney general, Obama said, Biden “fought for homeowners who were cheated, seniors who were scammed.”

“He even went after bullying itself,” Obama said. “He set up a Child Protector-Predator Task Force, convicted more than 200 of those who targeted vulnerable children.  And in all this, he did it in a way that was alive to the suffering of others, bringing in experts to help spare both the children and their parents further trauma.”

After the terrorist attacks of 2011, Biden joined the Delaware National Guard as a judge advocate, serving a year’s tour in Iraq, where he was awarded a Bronze Star.

At the funeral service Saturday, Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Odierno posthumously awarded Biden the Legion of Merit, calling him a man with "deep moral and ethical roots” and a "natural charisma that few people possess.”

General Odierno, who had gotten to know Biden when both served in Iraq, said, "People willingly wanted to follow him, trusted his judgment and believed in him,” suggesting that Biden struck him as one who might serve as president one day.

"Beau possessed the traits I have witnessed only in the greatest leaders," the general said in his eulogy.

Washington’s political elite were there to show their respect – Bill and Hillary Clinton, Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy, Joe Manchin, Chris Coons, and Tom Carper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other Obama administration officials.

The most emotional moments came when Beau Biden’s brother Hunter and sister Ashley spoke.

"The first memory I have is of lying in a hospital bed next to my brother," Hunter Biden said, referring to the fatal car accident that had taken his mother and sister, leaving the two young boys, ages four and three. "I remember my brother who was one year and one day older than me, holding my hand staring into my eyes, saying, 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' over and over again."

“Your problems were Beau’s problems,” Hunter Biden said of Beau. “But he seemed to carry them so effortlessly.”

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