Posted: Aug. 16, 2013


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A lively profile of Joe Biden in GQ magazine last month drew the usual feverish attention for his musings about running for president, but it also had something else.

It provided an intimate glimpse into the Biden family, an embrace of all of the family, including Neilia Biden and Amy Biden, mother and child lost in that terrible auto accident at Christmastime more than 40 years ago.

Anyone unfamiliar with that day would have read over it.

The GQ profile followed Biden at a canter as he led a little vice presidential entourage on a phantasmagorical tour of personal landmarks and stream-of-conscious thoughts.

Here he was in Delaware at a house where he used to live and at Archmere, where he used to go to school, and also in Washington at the vice president's home at the Naval Observatory, where he turned to toying with the idea of the 2016 presidential campaign, including an implicit acknowledgement of Hillary Clinton hovering above the Democratic field. As GQ says:

"I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America," he said one day at his residence in Washington. "But it doesn't mean I won't run. . . .

"The judgment I'll make is, first of all, am I still as full of as much energy as I have now -- do I feel this?" he said. "Number two, do I think I'm the best person in the position to move the ball? And, you know, we'll see where the hell I am.

"And by the way, if you come in the office, I have two portraits hanging -- one of Jefferson, one of Adams. Both vice presidents who became presidents." He said he likes to look at their very satisfied expressions. "I joke to myself, I wonder what their portraits looked like when they were vice presidents."

Inevitably, as Biden meandered through the points of his own life, it took him to that day in December in 1972, just weeks after the giddy time he improbably vaulted from the New Castle County Council to the United States Senate and celebrated his 30th birthday, when a tractor-trailer hit the family station wagon with his wife and their three children in it.

Neilia Biden and little Amy Biden, 13 months old, died from the crash. Beau Biden, the attorney general who was three, and Hunter Biden, his brother who was two, were hospitalized.

Joe Biden seriously considered not even going to the Senate, but he eventually decided to take the oath. It was administered two days late on Jan. 5, 1973, during a small ceremony at the hospital where Beau Biden was still recuperating.

Joe Biden, of course, later married Jill Biden, and they added a daughter to the family. All these years later, though, the accident never really seems to recede, and sometimes it seems to gnaw keenly all over again, as it did when Joe Biden arrived at the family church, GQ in tow.

The magazine profile did not name the church, but anyone who knows the area would immediately figure from the description it was St. Joseph on the Brandywine -- a centuries-old Catholic church for Irish immigrants, just a short drive from the Biden home in Greenville. GQ writes:

There's a small church at the center of the graveyard. His church . . .

"My mother, my father, my wife and my daughter are buried there," he says, [while] pointing across the road to a completely different section of the cemetery. "That section. New section. Right there. You see where that truck is?"

We stand and look. It's maybe a football field away.

"Right there."

It's too far away. We can't see anything.

"Should we walk over?" I ask.

"It looks like there's a funeral about to come in. I don't want to disturb . . ."

But there is no funeral coming in There is no activity over there whatsoever.

"We shouldn't," he says. His mother, his father, his wife, and his daughter. This is close enough. Close enough.

Except after the accident, Neilia and Amy Biden were not buried at St. Joseph. They were laid to rest at All Saints Cemetery along Kirkwood Highway near Newark.

Beau Biden explained it. "We moved my mom and my sister after my grandfather died, a little less than 10 years ago, for the entire family to be together," he told Delaware Grapevine earlier this week.

It was a private family matter, not something that necessarily would have become public, if Joe Biden had not gone to St. Joseph and pointed across the way at what was there.

A single tombstone for his parents says "Biden" at the top, followed by lines reading:

Joseph Robinette Sr.

Nov. 13, 1915-Sept. 2, 2002

Catherine Eugenia Finnegan

July 7, 1917-Jan. 8, 2010

A marker for Neilia and Amy Biden gives their full names, along with a rendering of Shakespearean verse from "Romeo and Juliet" for the mother and Biblical verse from Ezekiel for the daughter:

Neilia Hunter Biden

July 28, 1942-Dec. 18, 1972

"Death lies upon her like an early frost

Upon the sweetest flower of all the field"

Naomi Christina Biden

Nov. 3, 1971-Dec. 18, 1972

"As is the mother, so is the daughter"

"It's important that our family be together in all respects," Beau Biden said, "to be at the church where we worship as a family."