At every stage of President-elect's Joe Biden's candidacy, his late son Beau Biden has been on his mind. Biden has said that he selected vice president-elect Kamala Harris in part because Beau liked and trusted her. On the eve of his inauguration, Biden gave an emotional farewell speech to the state of Delaware, saying through tears: “Ladies and gentleman, I only have one regret: He's not here. Because we should be introducing him as president.”
Beau, who had served as attorney general of Delaware and is survived by his wife Hallie and children Natalie and Robert, passed away from brain cancer in 2015. At the time of his death, Beau was 46 years old.
Joe and his family picked the then-president Barack Obama to deliver the eulogy at Beau's funeral. In the moving speech, Obama said of Beau: "He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146. 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."
Joe and Beau had always been close. As a young boy, Beau had been hospitalized along with his brother Hunter following a car accident that killed his mom and Joe's wife, Neilia, as well as Beau's 1-year-old sister Naomi. His father held his Senate swearing-in at Beau's hospital bedside, and was dubbed "Amtrak Joe" while serving in office thanks to his commitment to heading home to his boys after work via train.
"By focusing on my sons, I found my redemption," Joe said in a Yale commencement speech in 2015. "The incredible bond I have with my children is the gift I’m not sure I would have had, had I not been through what I went through."
Beau agreed with his father that the accident tightly bonded the family: "One of my earliest memories was being in that hospital, Dad always at our side. We, not the Senate, were all he cared about," Beau said at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.
Beau and his younger brother Hunter also shared a strong bond. Together the brothers went to Archmere Academy, the same Catholic high school their father attended. There Beau was called "The Sheriff" among friends. Hunter recalled to The New Yorker of his rule-following ways, "If we wanted to jump off a cliff into a watering hole, I would say, 'I'm ready, let's go,' and Beau would say, 'Wait, wait, wait, before we do it, make sure there aren't any rocks down there.'"
He was elected student body president with Hunter's help at school, who helped pass campaign flyers around school. "Dad knew that is what Beau wanted," said Hunter to The New Yorker of Beau's early interest in politics.
After college, Beau served in the military and won a Bronze Star. While serving as attorney general of Delaware, Beau announced that he would run for governor in 2016—until his diagnosis cut his burgeoning political career short.
In 2010, Beau had suffered a small stroke, and in 2013 he had a lesion removed from his brain. He underwent surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation to treat the cancer, but in 2015 his health rapidly declined over the course of a few weeks. Beau died in May 2015, at the age of 46. In a statement, the family wrote:
It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life...The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us—especially through his brave wife, Hallie, and two remarkable children, Natalie and Hunter.
Beau's death at a young age was a particularly public tragedy, since Joe was serving out his last years as Vice President at the time. Though rumors flew that Beau had encouraged his father to run for president on Beau's deathbed, Joe shot down the rumors in 60 Minutes interview in 2015. "Beau all along thought that I should run and I could win," he said. "But there was not what was sort of made out as kind of this Hollywood-esque thing that at the last minute Beau grabbed my hand and said, 'Dad, you've got to run, like, win one for the Gipper.' It wasn't anything like that."
In January on MSNBC's Morning Joe, the former Vice President tearfully recalled his late son saying, "Beau should be the one running for president, not me. Every morning I get up Joe, not a joke, and I think to myself, 'Is he proud of me?'"
In a New York Times article from 2019, Joe continued to actively connect with constituents over this issue. According to the article: "'Some politicians have a sixth sense for weakness,' said Mr. Israel, a New York Democrat. 'Some can sense power. Joe Biden has a sixth sense for people who are struggling.'"
When Joe announced his candidacy on The View, he made mention of the tragedies he's suffered, including the death of Beau. He has also brought Beau into his campaign speeches and event speeches of the past few weeks. "Beau cared a great deal about being here. You all know the loss of a loved one. Somehow, the pain fades, a little bit,” he said at a recent rally. And in Houston, he honored doctors who had treated Beau: "You were wonderful, wonderful to my family,” he said, according to NBC.
Biden has also made curing cancer one of his campaign pledges, which undoubtedly is connected to the loss of his beloved son.
Beau was a huge support for his father when he was running as vice president. In his 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad Joe wrote about his son's calm demeanor and how it helped him before significant campaign events.
"Beau had a way of instilling courage and calming me," he wrote. "Beau would always grab my arm just before I walked onstage and pull me back toward him until I was looking into his eyes. 'Dad. Look at me. Look at me, Dad. Remember, Dad. Home base, Dad. Home base.'"
Joe even factored Beau into his decision to selected California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate, who had a close relationship with his son. In an email to his supporters, he explained, "They were both Attorneys General at the same time. He had enormous respect for her and her work. I thought a lot about that as I made this decision. There is no one's opinion I valued more than Beau's and I'm proud to have Kamala standing with me on this campaign."
According to The Washington Post, Harris and Beau were so close, his closest staffers had a list of about 60 people that should be the first to know about his death, and she was on that list.
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The vice president-elect still honors him today. On the fourth anniversary of his death, she tweeted, "Thinking of @JoeBiden, @DrBiden and the entire Biden family today. Beau Biden was my friend. We were AGs together, and you couldn't find a person who cared more deeply for his family, the nation he served, and the state of Delaware. Four years after his passing, I still miss him."
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Katherine’s a Boston-based contributor at Marie Claire who covers fashion, culture, and lifestyle—from “Clueless” to Everlane to news about Lizzo. She’s been a freelancer for 11 years and has had roles with Cosmopolitan and Bustle, with bylines in Parents, Seventeen, and elsewhere. It’s “I go to dinner,” not “Her huge ego,” but she responds to both.
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