Last of the Series
Joseph Robinette “Joe” Biden, the forty-sixth president of the United States, whose political career has spanned more than five decades, has also navigated an eventful–and at times–tragic personal life. Born on November 20, 1942, in Scranton, Pennsylvania, his family moved to Delaware when he was a child. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Delaware; a law degree from Syracuse University, and he practiced a few years while defining himself as a Democrat, and considering an entry into politics.
Nineteen seventy-two was a time of turning points–professionally and personally. In November, he won a long-shot bid for a Senate seat from Delaware, against a Republican incumbent in a year when Republican President Richard M. Nixon won reelection by a landslide. Then, a few weeks after the election, his wife Neilia Hunter Biden, whom he had married in 1966, and their infant daughter Naomi, were killed in an automobile accident, leaving him with two young sons to raise by himself; five years later, he married Jill Tracy Jacobs, with whom he would have a daughter.
During his long tenure as senator, Biden has built a reputation as a moderate on many issues. In 1987 he started a quest for the presidency that would last twenty years, He ran another time in 2008 and lost, but from 2009-2017 he was Barack Obama’s vice-president. He–finally–ascended to the presidency in 2020.
Born on February 3, 1969, in Wilmington, Delaware, Beau Biden was reputed to have been his father’s favorite son. He was in the back seat of his mother’s car on December 18, 1972, when she and Beau’s sister, Naomi, were killed in a collision with a truck; Beau suffered a broken leg, while Hunter had a skull fracture and other injuries. A few weeks later, Beau watched from a hospital bed, where he was in traction, as his father took the oath of office for the U.S. Senate by his bedside. “In six months or so, if there is a conflict between my being a good father and a good senator,” Joe Biden said then, “I promise I will contact [Delaware] Gov.-elect Sherman Tribbitt and tell him we can always get another senator, but my sons cannot get another father.”
A few days before the accident, Joe Biden had bought a house in Washington, D.C., on the assumption that he would move his family there. After the mishap, he sold it and decided to commute by automobile between Wilmington and Delaware—four hours each way—while phoning his sons several times a day. Eventually, he shifted the commute to train, but kept his sons in Wilmington so that they would not have to readjust to a new home after the tragedy. experienced. This remained the case even after he remarried in 1977.
Beau Biden attended his father’s alma mater, Archmere Academy, in Claymont, played soccer and other sports. He entered the University of Pennsylvania just as his father began his first bid for the presidency, made some political appearances, but concentrated on his studies to stay attentive to earn studies. He would graduate in 1991 with a history degree, and–later–he would earn a JD from Syracuse in 1994. Although Beau Biden’s academic performance at the two institutions was only middling, he clerked for a year with U.S. District Court Judge Steven McAuliffe and received an entry-level job at the U.S. Justice Department at the same time his father served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, prompting accusations of nepotism. But Beau Biden rapidly established a sterling professional reputation, eventually rising to become a federal prosecutor and focusing his work on prosecuting perpetrators of violence against women and children.
Joining the U.S. Army JAG Corps in 2003 and rising to the rank of major, serving in Iraq and earning the Bronze Star, Beau Biden was elected Attorney General of Delaware in 2006 and served through 2014. In that post, he continued centering on prosecuting child predators. And although he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013– during a period of remission–he announced his intention to run for governor of Delaware. But, the cancer returned, and Beau Biden’s promising career ended. He died May 30, 2015, at the age of forty-six. He had married Hallie Olivere in 2002, and they had two children.
Born on February 4, 1970, in Wilmington, Delaware, Hunter Biden survived the 1972 car crash that killed his mother and sister–but with multiple fractures. He and Beau made the best of what time they could get with their father in the years following years, living in Wilmington with Joe Biden’s sister and brother-in-law, and learning not to eat dessert until their father—struggling with depression at times to the point of near-collapse—could come home to share it with them.
Like his father and brother, Hunter Biden went to Archmere Academy; then he got a degree in history from Georgetown, and a JD from Yale—which he completed in 1996. From there he had assembled what looked like a promising career as a lobbyist-investor in Washington, D.C.
During those years of accomplishment, he married Kathleen Buhle, and they had three daughters.
In the 2010s, however, Hunter Biden’s life and career started to unravel. He had long struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and despite periods of sobriety, he relapsed. Because of it, he was discharged from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014. Following the death of Beau, Hunter relapsed, again; committed several sexual indiscretions, got entangled in suspicious business deals, and terminated his marriage.
His memoir, Beautiful Things (2021) chronicles these struggles.
Born on June 8, 1981, in Wilmington, Delaware, Ashley Biden is the only child of Joe Biden and his second wife, Jill Jacobs Biden. When she was still young, her father’s pursuit of the presidency in 1987 raised questions of family-career balance that had plagued him ever since his first wife’s death. And, although Jill Biden argued that political candidates are correct in bringing their children–to some degree–into the spotlight— “it gives a tremendous sense of what that candidate is all about,” she explained—she chose to strictly limit Ashley’s time with her parents on the campaign trail.
Ashley Biden, who demonstrated an interest in environmental activism while still in elementary school, also attended Archmere Academy, and then went on to get an B.A. and M.A. degrees in cultural anthropology and social work from Tulane University and the University of Pennsylvania. As a young woman, she had her share of controversy; she was arrested outside a Chicago bar in 2002, for example–but professionally she has devoted herself to social welfare and activism, as well as to the world of fashion. In 2012, she married plastic surgeon Howard Krein.
 UPI, Jan. 6, 1973.
 Charlotte Observer, Dec. 8, 1985.
 Morning News (Wilmington), Aug. 28, 1988; News Journal (Wilmington) June 17, 1996; https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/politics/a33638261/who-was-beau-biden-joe-biden-son/
 UPI, Dec. 20, 1973.
 Delaware News-Journal, July 1, 2019; https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hunter-biden-interview-memoir-substance-abuse/
 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa), Aug. 2, 1987
 Associated Press, Aug. 4, 2002; https://www.today.com/news/who-ashley-biden-meet-joe-biden-s-daughter-t204808
Ed Lengel is the Chief Historian at the National Medal of Honor Museum; Arlington, Texas.