The eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden was laid to rest on Saturday during an emotional funeral service at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington, Delaware. Speakers, including Army Chief of Staff General Raymond Thomas Odierno, praised his legacy as that of a man who had dedicated his life to public service, refusing any of the limelight that came with his father's appointment as Vice President. Among those who delivered moving eulogies was President Obama, who called Beau Biden a "good man" with a "mighty heart," sharing lighter moments from the former Delaware Attorney General and Iraq War veteran's personal and professional life.
"[Beau was] someone who charmed you, disarmed you, and put you at ease," said Obama, joking that Beau often tried to loosen others up during stuffy political fundraisers by whispering ill-timed jokes in their ears. "He was not above dancing in nothing but a sombrero and shorts at Thanksgiving to make the people he loved laugh."
The moving eulogy also highlighted Beau's generous humility and opposition to special treatment, even as a young man growing up in the shadow of a powerful father. Obama recounted an incident in Beau's 20s when he and a friend were stopped for speeding by a local officer who was a fan of his father's work.
"The officer recognized the name on the license, and because he was a fan of Joe’s work with law enforcement, he wanted to let him off with a warning," said Obama, "but Beau made him write the ticket [anyway]."
The president also spoke at length of Beau Biden's legacy — a tradition of kindheartedness that he had passed to his children. He added that though they were grieving, they had a family in both himself, the first lady, and daughters Sasha and Malia.
"We are always here for you," said Obama. "We always will be."
A full transcript of the president's eulogy can be found below.
“A man”, wrote Irish poet [Patrick Kavanagh], “is original when he speaks the truth that has always been known to all good men.
Beau Biden was an original. He was a good man. A man of character. A man who loved deeply and was loved in return.Your eminences, your excellencies, distinguished guests, Hallie, Natalie, Hunter, Kathleen, Ashley, Howard. The rest of Beau’s beautiful family, friends, colleagues; to Jill and Joe. We are here to agree with you — to grieve with you.
We are here because we love you. Without love, life can be cold and cruel. Sometimes, cruelty is deliberate. The action of bullies, bigots, or the inaction of those indifferent to another’s pain. Often, cruelty is simply born of life. A matter of fate or God’s will beyond our mortal powers to comprehen. To suffer such faceless, seemingly random cruelty can harden the softest hearts or shrink the sturdiest. It can make one mean or bitter, or full of self-pity.
To paraphrase an old proverb, it can make you beg for lighter burdens.
But if you’re strong enough, it can also make you ask God for broader shoulders. Shoulders broad enough to bear not only your burdens, but the burdens of others. Shoulders broad enough to shield those who need shelter the most.
To know Beau Biden is to know which choice he made in his life. To know Joe and the rest of the Biden family is to understand why Beau lived the life he did.
For Beau, a cruel twist of fate came early — the car accident that took his mom, his sister, and confined he and his brother, still toddlers, to bed at Christmas time. But he was a Biden, and he learned early the Biden family rule: “If you have to ask for help, it is too late: you are never alone. You don’t have to ask. Someone is always there for you when you need them.” After the accident, Ann rushed in to help care for the boys and help raise them.
Joe continued public service but shunned the parlor games of Washington. He met his most cherished duty of seeing his kids off to school, letting them know the world was stable — that there was firm ground under their feet. As Joe himself once confessed to me, he didn’t do this because the kids needed him, he did it because he needed those kids.
Somehow, Beau sensed that — how deeply hurt his family and father was. So rather than using his childhood trauma as justification for a life of self-pity or self-centeredness, that very young boy made a very grown-up decision: he would live a life of meaning. He would live a life for others. He would ask God for broader shoulders.
Beau would be a guide and look out for his younger brother. He would embrace his new mother. The two boys sheepishly asked their father when they could marry Jill.
Throughout his life, no one would make Joe laugh harder. They would look after his baby sister. He would always do the right thing, careful not to give his family or friends cause for concern.
It is no secret that a lot of what made Beau the way he was was how much he loved and admired his dad. He studied law like his dad, even choosing the same school. He chose a public [career] like his dad. He believed it to be a noble and important pursuit.
From his dad, he learned to get up when life knocked him down. He learned he was no higher than anyone else — something he got from his mom, by the way. He learned to make everyone else feel like they matter. His father taught him everyone matters. He even looked and sounded like Joe — though Joe would be the first to acknowledge that he was not “Joe 2.0”.
As much as he reminded folks of Joe, he was very much his own man. He was an original. It was a sign of an incredible family who brushed away the possibility of privilege for the harder and better reward of earning his own way. He was a soldier who dodged glory and exhibited true humility. A prosecutor who defended the defenseless. A politician who collected more fans than foes. The public figure who prioritized his private life above all else. He did not cut corners.
He turned down an appointment to be Delaware’s Attorney General so he would win it fair and square. When the field was clear for him to run for the Senate, he chose to finish his job. He did not do these things to gain favor with a cynical public — it was just who he was.
In his 20s, he and a friend were stopped for speeding outside of Scranton. The officer recognized the name on the license, and because he was a fan of Joe’s work with law enforcement, he wanted to let him off with a warning, but Beau made him write the ticket.
Beau did not trade on his name. After 9/11, he joined the National Guard and felt it was part of his obligation — part of what those broader shoulders were for. He did his duty to his country and deployed to Iraq, as the General (Raymond T. Odierno) spoke to his service [earlier].
What I can tell you, as he was shipping out of Dover, there was a lot of press wanting to interview him. He refused. He was just another soldier.
I saw him when I visited Iraq. His deployment was hard on Hallie and the kids, like it was on so many families over the last 14 years. It was hard on Joe and Jill. That is why they threw themselves into their work with military families. You can hear it in the speeches [Joe] gives. When Joe thunders, “May God protect our troops,” he means it deeply.
Like his father, Beau did not have a mean bone in his body. The cruelty he had endured in his life did not make him hard, it made him compassionate and empathetic. It would make him abhor bullies. Beau’s grandfather believed that the most egregious sin was to use your power to inflict pain on another. So Beau squared his shoulders to protect people from that abuse. He fought for homeowners who were cheated, seniors who were scammed, even after bullying itself.
He set up a child predator task force and convicted more than 200 of those who targeted vulnerable children. He did this in a way that was aligned to the suffering of others, bringing in experts to spare children and their parents further trauma.
That is who Beau was — someone who cared. Someone who charmed you, disarmed you, and put you at ease. When he had to attend a fancy fundraiser with people who took themselves too seriously, he would walk over and whisper something inappropriate in your ear to make you laugh. [Laughter]
He was the son of a Senator, the most popular elected official in Delaware. Sorry, Joe. [Laughter] He was not above dancing in nothing but a sombrero and shorts at Thanksgiving to make the people he loved laugh. Through it all, he was the consummate public servant. A notebook in his pocket at all times to write down the problems of everyone he met, he’d go back to that office and get them fixed, because he was a Biden.
The title that comes with family, husband, father, son, brother, uncle — those were the ones that Beau valued above any other.
At the Democratic National Convention, he did not spend all his time in back rooms with donors — instead he rode the escalators in the arena with his son, up and down, again and again, knowing, just like Joe learned, what mattered most in life.
Anyone can make a name for themselves in this reality TV age. Or in politics, if you’re loud enough or controversial enough, you can get attention. But to make that name mean something, to have it associated with dignity and integrity, that is rare.
There is no shortcut to get it. It is not something you can buy. If you do right by your children, maybe you can pass it on. What greater inheritance is there? What greater inheritance than to be part of a family that passes on the values of what it means to be a good parent, to give fully and freely without expecting anything in return? That is what our country was built on, men like Beau. That is who built it, families like this.
We do not have kings, queens, or lords. We do not have to be born into money to have an impact. We have this remarkable privilege of being able to earn what we get out of life with the knowledge that we are no higher or lower than anyone else.
We know this, not just because it is in our founding documents, but because families like the Bidens have made it so. People like Beau have made this so. He did in 46 years what most of us couldn’t do with 146. He left nothing in the tank.
He was man who led a life where the means were as important as the ends. The example he set made you want to be a better dad or son, or brother or sister. Better at your job. A better soldier. He made you want to be a better person.
Isn’t that the final measure of a man? The way he lives, the way he treats others, no matter what life throws at him?
We do not know how long we’ve got here. We do not know when fate will intervene. We do not know God’s plan. What we do know is that with every minute that we’ve got, we can live our lives in a way that takes nothing for granted. We can love deeply, we can help people who need help. We can teach our children what matters and pass on empathy and compassion and selflessness. We can teach them to have broad shoulders.
To the Biden family, this sprawling intimate clan, I know that Beau’s passing has left a gaping void in the world. I can only imagine the burdens you have been carrying on your shoulders for the past couple of years. It is because you gave him everything that he could give everything to us. Because you were there for him, we will be there for you.
Natalie and Hunter, there are not words big enough to describe how much your dad loved you and your mom. But Michelle, Sasha, Malia and I have become a part of the family. We are always here for you. We always will be. My word as a Biden. [Laughter]
To Joe and Jill, like everyone else, Michelle and I thank God you are in our lives. Taking this ride with you is one of the greatest pleasures of our lives. Joe, you are my brother. I’m grateful every day that you have such a big heart, a big soul, and such broad shoulders. I could not admire you more.
I got to know Catherine Biden before she passed away. She was onstage with us when we were elected. She told Joe once that out of everything bad that happens, something good will come if you look hard enough. I suppose she was channeling the same Irish poet that I began with today.
I said, “Let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.” As hard as it is right now, through all of the heartache and tears, it is our obligation to Beau not to think about what was and might have been, but to think about what is because of him.
Think about the day that dawns for children who are safer because of Beau, whose lives are fuller because of him. Think about the day that dawns for parents who can rest easier and families that are freer because of him. Some folks may never know that their lives are better because of Beau Biden — but that’s okay. Certainly for Beau, that was never the point.
For Beau, acclaim was never the point of public service. The White House mailroom has been overflowing with letters from folks who know. The soldiers who served with him, who joined the National Guard because of him; the workers that still have their home because of him, and thanked him for helping them bus tables one night and for talking with them for hours, even after taking his National Guard fitness test; and a woman who save a voicemail from him for five years who wrote to say that she “loved the way he loved his family”; they know.
The only thing we can hope for is that our children make us proud by making a difference in the world. Beau has done that and then some.
The world noticed. Jill, Joe, Hallie, Hunter, and Natalie, the world noticed. They noticed.
They felt it, his presence. Beau lives on in the lives of others. Isn’t that the whole point of our time? To make the country we love fair and more just, not just for Natalie, Hunter, Naomi, Malia, Sasha — but for every child? Isn’t that what this amazing journey is all about? To make life better for the next generation?
Beau figured that out early in life. What an inheritance Beau left us. What an example he set.
“Through our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire,” said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. “But above all, we have learned that whether a man accepts from Fortune her spade, and will look downward and dig, or from Aspiration her axe and cord, and will scale the ice, the one and only success which it is his to command is to bring to his work a mighty heart.”
Beau Biden brought to his work a mighty heart. He brought to his family a mighty heart.
What a good man. What an original. May god bless his memory and the lives of all he touched.
The ceremony attracted over 1,000 mourners, including former President Bill Clinton and Secretary Hillary Clinton, as well as several state and national political figures and military officials.
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