For Wilmington residents, the death of former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden feels like a personal loss.
There was a moment of silence Sunday during the 8 a.m. service at Tabernacle Full Gospel Baptist Cathedral in Wilmington.
The marquee outside displayed a simple message: “In Loving Memory / Beau Biden / 1969-2015”
“We’ll continue to be prayerful for Vice President Biden and his wife and grandchildren,” said Bishop Aretha Morton, the church’s pastor. “It’s just a time of mourning. It really, really is.”
Like so many in this city of 70,000 — where few names loom larger than Biden’s — Morton knew the former attorney general, who died Saturday night after battling brain cancer. He and his father, Vice President Joe Biden, had visited the church she said.
“He would always embrace me and I would always ask for his dad because I feel just that close to the family,” Morton said. “My heart is broken.”
Lisa Weiner recalled Beau Biden as a caring, thoughtful man. She knew the Biden family through Beau’s sister, Ashley. In fact, Ashley was the matron of honor at her daughter’s wedding last August.
“He was a very sweet, genuinely very sweet person,” Weiner said of Beau Biden. “It’s just devastating.”
Walking around Wilmington the Sunday after Biden’s passing, it was hard to find someone who didn’t have some conncetion to the Biden clan or a story to share about Delaware’s most prominent political family.
Transplanted New Yorker Mary-Beth Howard teaches English Language Arts at the Tatnall School, where Beau Biden’s children, Natalie and Hunter, both attend.
“They’re a wonderful family,” she said. “Their values are beautiful — humane, inclusive, tolerant, respectful.”
Howard and others said they were surprised at Biden’s passing, despite rumors that he was ailing. Howard said Biden’s death hits particularly hard in Wilmington, a place where the family name resonates with so many and there is a sense that people truly know their politicans.
“These people are us,” she said. “We are these people. We’re all in this together.”
Mark Tobin knew Beau Biden through his father. Tobin trained Champ, the German Shephard puppy adopted by the elder Biden and his wife, Jill, in 2008.
“They say in Delaware you’re one [degree] of separation with people,” Tobin said. “You do know them. You do have a personal relationship with them. You do get attached to their family.”
A former New Castle County police officer with the K-9 unit, Tobin hailed Biden as a “pro-police” attorney general who helped strengthen the force. But his thoughts on this Sunday were with the Biden family.
“They’re like a typical family — love their pets, love their kids,” Tobin said. ” It’s just heartbreaking.”
Even those like Maria Deas, who didn’t know Beau Biden, said they felt a sense of personal loss.
“I cried,” Deas, a cancer survivor, said. ” I cried for his kids.”
She and others also alluded to what could have been for the promising young politician. Many considered Biden the frontrunner to replace Governor Jack Markell when Markell leaves office in 2017.
“I think he would have been a great governor for this state,” Deas said. “He did a lot of good. He stood for a lot of really great things.”