Standing at the front of the line outside Wilmington’s St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church on Friday morning, Lois Lipton Parker couldn’t help but remember 1972, when she saw Joe and Beau Biden inside a hospital room beset with tragedy.
Parker was there in the aftermath of the automobile accident that ultimately claimed the lives of Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and the couple’s 18-month-old daughter, Naomi.
On Friday, she was among thousands who came to say goodbye to Beau, the former Delaware attorney general who died of brain cancer on Saturday.
“I’m just devastated by this,” said Parker, who knew Beau when he was just three years old. “I remember seeing Joe in that hospital room, his head in his hands. When I went to hug him, I don’t even think he knew I was there. I wish [the Biden family] could have some privacy today. This is just too much.”
A long line of mourners
By “too much,” she meant the line of mourners which stretched more than a block from a security tent throughout the first of two three-hour Friday viewings inside the stately Catholic church.
Privacy will also be put on hold until after Saturday morning’s funeral, at which President Barack Obama will deliver the eulogy.
“It’s extremely sad,” said a volunteer named Maryann who collected condolence and Mass cards in a cardboard box near the security tent featuring eight metal detectors. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Many of those outside St. Anthony’s offered similar stories from their small, close-knit state.
They knew the family for decades, and they thought the world of Beau, who was prematurely taken from his wife Hallie, children Hunter and Natalie, and other loved ones including his Vice Presidential.
They wore military uniforms, Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club jackets and dark suits or dresses. They held their parent’s hands and used walkers or wheelchairs. They used umbrellas to shield themselves from the morning rain and, just as the viewing got underway, the afternoon sun.
“This is a testament to how beloved the Biden family is. It’s a sad time for those fortunate enough to have known Beau,” said Charlie Oberly, the U.S. Attorney for Delaware, as he surveyed the line after paying respects to the grieving family inside the church. “He was a gentle, nice man.”
Wilmington City Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker said she’ll always remember the love for family that drove Beau Biden as a son, brother and more.
“You can feel the love inside the church,” she said when asked about the mood inside. “To be involved in a situation where you lost a child and still be standing, that is nothing but the grace of God.”
Wilmington resident Marcel Ginlett did not go inside the church on Friday, but stood outside the security perimeter talking about what the city and state lost with Beau Biden’s death.
Decrying the street violence that plagues his neighborhood, he said he hopes that someone comes along “with the same spirit” as the deceased.
“He wasn’t quiet about [wanting to address youth violence and protecting Delaware children],” said Ginlett of Biden. “He was not scared or worried about what people would say about him. He was a real person who didn’t hide behind security or behind a desk. We need help here from someone like him.”
The pool reports
While numerous television satellite trucks and cameras lined nearby streets, reports from inside the church came from pool reporters granted access. What they reported:
Beau Biden’s casket arrived at 12:10 p.m. and Delaware National Guard Adjutant General Francis D. Vavala saluted as an eight-member military honor guard carried Beau Biden’s American flag-draped casket inside several minutes later.
The scene was quiet as the honor guard removed the casket from the hearse and moved inside. The loudest sound seemed to be the bubbling from the water fountain in front of the church as residents along nearby streets watched and took photographs from their porches.
Vice President Joe Biden arrived around 1:10 p.m. with his wife Jill; Beau’s wife Hallie and their children Natalie and Hunter; Beau’s brother Hunter Biden and sister Ashley; as well as spouses and Beau’s aunt Valerie Biden Owens.
Mourners filed through the center aisle of the church, which seats more than 1,000 people, walking toward the receiving line as the sun shined through stained-glass windows.
Joe Biden stood just in front of, and adjacent to, his son’s casket shaking hands and embracing many of the mourners.
Some people who were observed on line, or otherwise in attendance include U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew; U.S. Rep. John Carney (D-Del.), U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)
Also attending, according to the Vice President’s office, were U.S. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Chicago Mayor Mayor Rahm Emanuel.