Beau Biden memorial: The good he leaves behind

The outpouring of affection for Vice President Joe Biden’s late son shows that public servants can still touch voters’ hearts.

Patrick Semansky/AP
Vice President Joe Biden (c.) pauses alongside his family as they are to enter a visitation for his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, Thursday, at Legislative Hall in Dover, Del. Standing with Biden are his son Hunter (from left) granddaughter Natalie, daughter-in-law Hallie, grandson Hunter, and wife Jill. Beau Biden died of brain cancer Saturday.

At Beau Biden’s memorial service on Thursday, Delaware House Speaker Peter Schwartzkopf talked about the time Beau Biden dropped into his office to give him a hug.

Mr. Biden said that was the only reason for his visit, according to state Representative Schwartzkopf. He didn’t have anything more serious on his mind. The Delaware lawmaker was his friend, and he didn’t get to see him that much. He missed him.

Now Biden, once Delaware’s attorney general and a favorite for the state’s 2016 gubernatorial election, is gone. A state mourns. A family mourns.

“This week, we’re all part of Joe Biden’s family,” Schwartzkopf said Thursday at a brief public service before Biden lay in state in Delaware’s state capitol building, Legislative Hall.

Think everything in politics is cheap partisanship? Think politicians are lower than loan sharks, con men, or reporters?

Think again. The outpouring of affection for Vice President Joe Biden’s late son shows that public servants can still touch voters’ hearts.

Hundreds of ordinary Delawareans stood in line to file past Biden’s casket and pay respects in a viewing ceremony that lasted beyond four hours. It was the first such ceremony held in Legislative Hall since it opened in 1933, according to the Delaware News Journal.

Yes, Delaware is a blue state, so Biden didn’t have to deal with a partisan divide during his too-short political career. He was the son of the second-highest ranking politician in America. But as the Monitor’s Linda Feldmann wrote earlier this week, Biden represented some of the best impulses of American politics. He did not always take the easiest path, the road most conducive to his career.

In 2008, for instance, Biden could have just been appointed to his dad’s old Senate seat, after the Obama/Biden ticket won the presidential election. He opted to remain attorney general, saying he had important work to finish up, and ran for reelection in 2010. One item on his agenda: the tough prosecution of pediatrician Earl Bradley, who in 2011 was convicted of rape and abuse of more than 100 children.

“As adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused – they cannot speak for themselves,” wrote Biden at the time.

A major in the Delaware National Guard, the younger Biden was serving in Iraq at the time of his father’s inauguration. He traveled back to D.C. for the ceremony, and then returned to his unit.

Many of those who waited in line to pay their respects on Thursday were current or former members of the military.

His first name, “Beau,” was all it took to identify him to many First State residents.

One bit of evidence of the extent of Biden’s appeal is the flood of donations into the new Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children. It’s raised about $125,000 in two days, according to the Delaware Community Foundation, which oversees the new charity.

The foundation has received about 600 individual donations so far, an impressive rate given the circumstances, according to Community Foundation chief Fred Sears.

“It’s really overwhelming,” Mr. Sears, a Biden family friend, told the News Journal.

Biden’s memorial ceremonies continue Friday, with a public wake and more viewings in Wilmington. On Saturday, President Obama is expected to deliver the eulogy at Beau Biden’s funeral mass.

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