Hundreds pay respects to Beau Biden in Dover

DOVER — If Thursday’s memorial was any indication, perhaps no Delawarean was loved like Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III.

Hundreds came to pay their respects at Legislative Hall to the former attorney general and eldest son of the vice president. Mr. Biden, who one 2014 poll found was more popular and well-known than almost every other statewide official, died Saturday of brain cancer. He was 46.

Draped in an American flag, his casket rested in a place of honor in the state’s Senate chamber. He is believed to be the first individual to lie in honor at Legislative Hall.

Flags flew at half-staff, roads around the state Capitol were shut down and members of the public began arriving three hours before they were scheduled to be allowed in.

In his first public appearance since his son’s death, Vice President Joe Biden remained composed when the casket arrived and during a small private ceremony. Family members, including the vice president’s wife, son and daughter, as well as Beau Biden’s wife and two children, clung to each other throughout a series of public remarks by state officials.

Standing about three feet away from his son’s casket, Vice President Biden stared at the floor during most of the ceremony, wiping a tear from his eye at one point and reaching over to stroke his granddaughter’s face at another.

No member of the Biden family spoke during the ceremony, but they remained stationed in the Senate chamber to personally thank hundreds of well-wishers.

The vice president greeted everyone with a hug or a handshake, and as state officials and members of the public filed past him, he began to smile and engage in short conversations with visitors, welcoming several with loud exclamations and his famous smile.

Although no tears were shed when the casket was unloaded outside, several family members had to reach for tissues while receiving well-wishers.

Mr. Biden’s casket arrived from Wilmington after an hourlong procession that included family members, police officers and members of the Delaware National Guard, which Mr. Biden belonged to from 2003 until his death.

Unloaded from the hearse outside Legislative Hall just before 1 p.m., the casket was carried into the building by a group of eight National Guardsmen and followed by members of the Biden family. On one side of the dais behind the casket rested a large photo of Mr. Biden, his wife, Hallie, and his children, Natalie and Hunter, while on the other side sat a case containing a medal.

The medal, the Delaware Conspicuous Service Cross, was presented by Gov. Jack Markell during the 25-minute ceremony in the Senate chamber. It is the highest honor the state can give.

State officials touted the man Gov. Jack Markell said lived a model life.

He was praised as a public servant, as a friend and above all, as a family man.

“The Biden family is Delaware’s family, and Beau’s dedication to and love for you and your dedication and love right back is what we all want for our own families,” Gov. Markell said.

Several speakers told stories of Beau Biden’s compassion and warmth.

“If I mentioned one word, just say one word, ‘Beau,’ anywhere in this state, everyone would know who I was talking about,” Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, said, recalling a time Mr. Biden visited him at Legislative Hall just to provide a friendly greeting.

“Everybody who met him loved him instantly. He was that kind of outgoing, effusive person who made it clear to everyone that they were the most important person in the room, not him,” former Chief Justice Myron Steele said.

President Pro Tempore Patti Blevins, D-Elsemere, presented a tribute by the Senate honoring Mr. Biden. Her voice shook as she read the text of the honorific, which praised the former attorney general for his eight years of public service.

Mr. Biden opted not to seek a third term as attorney general last year, instead announcing plans last spring to run for governor in 2016. Since the announcement, he had not spoken publicly about his campaign and had begun work in a private law practice.

He was hospitalized in May at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, but the reason remained private.

In 2010, Beau Biden suffered a mild stroke. Three years later, he underwent surgery at a Texas cancer center to remove what was described as a small lesion.

In an opening prayer, Col. Ed Brandt, a chaplain with the Delaware National Guard, urged those in attendance to focus on the positive aspects of Mr. Biden’s life.

“As we walk through the valley darkened by the shadows of death, comfort us. And during this time of grief, while there is the temptation to focus on the bookends of tragedy in Beau’s life, help us instead read the volumes of victories and the tales of triumph of a life well lived,” he said, the bookends referencing Mr. Biden’s death and a car crash that killed his mother and sister in 1972.

“We give thanks for this remarkable human being.”

Even before lawmakers, cabinet secretaries, judges and other officials gathered in Legislative Hall for the private commemoration, a line was forming outside. Police officers in uniform, elderly individuals in wheelchairs and children all stopped by to greet the vice president and his family and wish them well.

Vice President Biden left Legislative Hall shortly after 5 p.m. Thursday and the casket was removed at about 5:30 p.m.

Smyrna residents Ronnie and Lynda Lake were among the first people there, arriving around 10:15.

Mr. Biden was a good man, and his father continues to impact the state, the Lakes said.

“If this is all you can do for him to extend your sadness personally, that’s all you can do,” Ms. Lake said.

Waiting nearby, Cynthia Fields had similar sentiments. She traveled from Magnolia to begin waiting at 10, when only media and security were present outside.

“We couldn’t do enough,” she said, praising the Bidens.

As the private ceremony wrapped up, members of the public began to enter the building and make their way toward the Bidens to offer sympathies.

At approximately the same time as the Bidens greeted state officials gathered in Legislative Hall, Rep. John C. Carney, D-Del., introduced a resolution in Congress honoring Mr. Biden.

While an overriding sense of sadness accompanied many of the proceedings, there was also a clear feeling of thanks: thanks that Delaware was able to know Beau Biden.

“Beau made Delaware for a better place for us all,” Gov. Markell said.

Citizens can continue to pay their respects to Mr. Biden today in Wilmington at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church from 1 to 4 and 6 to 9 p.m.

On Saturday, President Barack Obama will deliver a eulogy at a public Mass at the church at 10:30 a.m.

 

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment