Joseph “Beau” Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden and a promising young figure in Democratic Party politics, died Saturday of brain cancer at Walter Reed Medical Center near Washington, his father said. He was 46.
“The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words,” the vice president said in a statement. “We know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us.”
President Obama issued a statement saying, “Michelle and I are grieving tonight. Beau Biden was a friend of ours.”
Earlier this month, the vice president’s office said Beau Biden — who was considered a leading contender in next year’s governor’s election in Delaware — was undergoing treatment for an undisclosed condition.
Beau Biden was elected Delaware’s attorney general in 2006. During his time in office he helped launch the state’s Child Predator Task Force that targeted child molesters. He also pushed initiatives aimed at domestic violence and juvenile crime, and he established programs to help financially stressed homeowners keep their homes.
The vice president, in his statement, said his son “fought for the powerless and made it his mission to protect children from abuse.”
Beau Biden campaigned for his father’s vice presidential campaign in 2008 and paid tribute to him in a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
After his father’s election as vice president, some speculated that Beau Biden might be appointed to replace him in the Senate. But he insisted that he wanted to continue as attorney general and focus on a major case his office was pursuing. The Senate appointment ultimately went to Ted Kaufman, a longtime aide to Joe Biden. Though the elder Biden relished the idea of his son following him in the Senate, he had also warmed to the idea of Beau in executive office.
In 2009, Beau Biden was deployed to Iraq as a Judge Advocate officer in the Delaware Army National Guard. He left the attorney general’s office this year after serving two terms and returned to private practice as an attorney amid speculation about his next move in politics. But questions lingered about his health. In 2010, he suffered what was described at the time as a mild stroke and received treatment at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Three years later he underwent surgery to remove what was described as a small lesion, according to the Associated Press.
“More than his professional accomplishments, Beau measured himself as a husband, father, son and brother,” his father said. “His absolute honor made him a role model for our family.”
Beau Biden was born Joseph Robinette Biden III on Feb. 3, 1969. He graduated from Archmere Academy in Wilmington, and then went on to the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a bachelor’s degree in history. He earned his law degree from Syracuse University College of Law.
Before entering politics, he was a prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia. He also worked as interim legal advisor for the Justice Department in postwar Kosovo to help rebuild that country’s criminal justice system.
His death is the latest personal tragedy to befall the vice president, whose first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident just a month after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972. Beau and his brother, Hunter, were seriously injured in the crash, which nearly led Joe Biden to quit his political career just as it was beginning.
Obama, in his statement, also paid tribute to the vice president, saying, “Joe is one of the strongest men we’ve ever known.” The president said it was to the credit of Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, that Beau led a life “that was full, a life that mattered, a life that reflected their reverence for family.”
Joe Biden’s perseverance through multiple personal crises has become one of his trademarks. An outspoken politician, he has often used speeches at funerals or memorial services to share his own experience of grief.
Recalling the death of his wife and daughter decades earlier, he said in a 2012 speech to families of military service members killed in action that “for the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide.”
“There will come a day, I promise you, and your parents as well, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” he said.
In addition to his father and stepmother, Beau Biden’s survivors include his wife, Hallie; daughter Natalie; son Hunter; brother Hunter; and half-sister Ashley.
Memoli reported from Washington and Colker from Los Angeles.