WASHINGTON -- Beau Biden, who died Saturday of brain cancer, was remembered by those who knew him as courageous, a dedicated public servant who often wore a wide smile. The eldest son of the vice president, he followed his father’s footsteps into public service.
“Like his dad, Beau was a good, big-hearted, devoutly Catholic and deeply faithful man, who made a difference in the lives of all he touched -- and he lives on in their hearts,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “But for all that Beau Biden achieved in his life, nothing made him prouder, nothing made him happier, nothing claimed a fuller focus of his love and devotion than his family.”
While Joe Biden is known for being an unmistakable presence in a room, Beau Biden was frequently quieter, uncomfortable at times being the center of attention and preferring to talk one-on-one than to delivering a high profile speech.
“Beau Biden was a wonderful, strong and courageous man,” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said in a statement. “Beau's dedication to public service was deep, broad and profound. He embodied the best and most noble traits that his parents sought to instill in him. I know Joe is very proud and he should be proud because Beau was simply a joy to know.”
There was an outpouring of condolences from political figures across the nation. “My heart is broken for the family of Beau Biden -- a wonderful man who served his country with devotion and lived his life with courage,” Hillary Clinton posted on Twitter.
Biden gained a reputation for working across the aisle and building a political staff at the attorney general’s office that was nonpartisan. “He was a really decent guy,” said Charlie Copeland, the Delaware Republican chairman who served in the state Senate while Biden was the attorney general. “He himself was liked by people across the aisle. You knew he was earnest.”
Beau Biden first rocketed to national attention when he was only 4 years old. Weeks after Joe Biden was elected to the Senate, Beau Biden, his brother Hunter, sister Naomi and mother Neilia were Christmas shopping when they were involved in a car accident. Neilia and Naomi were killed. Beau and Hunter were seriously injured. Joe Biden came close to deciding not enter the Senate at all. But instead, he took the oath in Beau Biden’s hospital room and would commute back and forth for the next three decades.
Beau Biden renewed his national fame when he crisscrossed the nation campaigning for Obama and his father in 2012. In 2008, he was deployed to Iraq with his National Guard unit, making him unable to campaign. But he did speak at the convention that year in a speech described as moving. “As I mentioned, my dad has always been there for me, my brother and my sister, every day,” Beau Biden said, according to a transcript. “But because of other duties, it won't be possible for me to be here this fall to stand by him the way he stood by me. So I have something to ask of you. Be there for my dad like he was for me.”
Trained as a lawyer, in 2003 Biden joined the National Guard. He would deploy several times, including to Iraq, working as a legal counsel to members of the military.
In 2006, Biden was elected the Delaware attorney general. Most assumed when his father vacated his seat after being elected vice president, Biden would run in 2008 to replace him. Because of his popularity, most viewed the seat as Biden’s if he had opted to run. Instead, he decided to remain the attorney general and passed on moving to Washington. He was easily re-elected in 2010.
“Beau spent his entire career in the service of his country and his state. He was an outstanding attorney general, lawyer, soldier and father,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said in a statement. “I feel privileged to have served with him, and Delaware is a better place thanks to him.”
Biden first began struggling with his health in 2010 when he suffered what was described by doctors as a “mild stroke.” At the time, he appeared to make a full recovery and returned to work shortly after.
But in 2013, Biden developed brain cancer and was treated in Houston at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Doctors revealed they had removed a small lesion on Biden’s brain.
The status of his health was held close by his family. In April 2014, Biden announced he would not seek re-election as the attorney general. At the time, he said the decision would allow him to concentrate on running for governor in 2016 when the office would become vacant. But speculation grew -- especially as Biden disappeared from public life in the state -- that his health was more dire than the family was admitting. He left office in January and entered private practice.
Beau Biden was 46 years old. He is survived by his wife Hallie; two children, Natalie and Hunter; his father Joe Biden; his stepmother Jill Biden; his brother Hunter Biden; and his sister Ashley Biden.
Joe Biden frequently quotes Irish poet William Butler Yeats. And in describing the loss of Beau Biden, Obama did the same pointing to this line from the poet: “I have believed the best of every man. And find that to believe it is enough to make a bad man show him at his best or even a good man swing his lantern higher.”
“Beau Biden believed the best of us all,” Obama said in a statement. “For him, and for his family, we swing our lanterns higher."
Funeral arrangements were not immediately released.