Over a thousand mourners packed St. Anthony of Padua in Wilmington to pay their respects to Beau Biden.
Well-wishers, including dozens of politicians and dignitaries from around the country, descended on Wilmington Saturday to pay respect to the 46-year-old former attorney general of Delaware, who died of brain cancer last Saturday after battling the disease for years.
President Barack Obama said on Saturday that the passing of Beau Biden has left a “gaping void in the world,” speaking to attendees of a packed funeral service. He spoke about Biden’s compassion, tireless work ethic and years as a public servant.
These days, Obama said, garnering attention is easy. But living a life that forever imbues a name with dignity and integrity is rare. Beau Biden, the president said, accomplished this.
“There’s no shortcut to get it. It’s not something you can buy. But if you do right by your children, maybe you can pass it on,” Obama said. “And what greater inheritance is there than to be part of a family to pass along the values of what it means to be a great parent. That pass along the values of what it means to be a good citizen.”
“It’s heartbreaking. When I heard the news, I wept,” said Father O’Donovan, who opened the funeral Mass at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington’s Little Italy neighborhood. The service was also streaming live on national television. “This peerlessly patriotic public servant. Gone. Gone. Gone.”
Ashley Biden, Beau Biden’s sister, recalled the breakfasts the siblings would share every other Friday, the days Biden was due for chemo treatment.
“Even though Beau never stop fighting, and his will to live was stronger than most, I think he knew that this day might come,” she said.
In times of grief, however, her brother was always her first phone call. “He never judged, he just listened,” she said.
Mourners hung their heads and sought comfort on loved one’s shoulders as speakers eulogized Biden. Among them, Gen. Ray Odierno, former Army chief of staff in Iraq, where Beau Biden was once deployed.
“Beau Biden possessed the traits I have witnessed in only the greatest leaders,” Odierno said, noting Biden’s charisma, selflessness and ability to lead.
Obama spoke about how Beau Biden rounded out the other personalities in the family and how, among all the Bidens, the vice president’s late son stood out.
“He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do in 146,” 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. 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?”
Obama also provided some moments of levity for the attendees, especially in comparing Beau Biden to his father, whose blunt, off-script moments sometimes generate their own news stories.
“He even looked and sounded like Joe, although I think Joe would be first to acknowledge that Beau was an upgrade — Joe 2.0,” Obama said to laughter.
In another candid tale, the president mentioned how Beau, when attending functions with wealthy people, would sometimes whisper “something wildly inappropriate in your ear.”
He also had a penchant for entertaining friends and family, creating memorable moments that illustrated Beau Biden’s good-natured way. For instance, he was “not above dancing in nothing but a sombrero and shorts at Thanksgiving if it would shake loose a laugh from the people he loved,” the president said.
But Obama also talked about the hard times and tragedies that marked Biden, including a car accident in 1972 that claimed the life of the vice president’s first wife, Neila Biden, and their 18-month-old daughter, Naomi. The crash also injured Beau, who was 3 at the time.
“It’s no secret that a lot of what made Beau the way he was was just how much he loved and admired his dad,” Obama said.
“From his dad, he learned how to get back up when life knocked him down. He learned that he was no higher than anybody else, and no lower than anybody else –- something Joe got from his mom, by the way. And he learned how to make everybody else feel like we matter, because his dad taught him that everybody matters.”