From the Los Angeles Times:
WASHINGTON — The personification of the white-haired Washington insider, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. has spent more than half his life in the Senate, seemingly so in love with his own voice that his colleagues must fight to be heard at his hearings.
A hundred miles away from Capitol Hill, however, is another Joe Biden — more a character in Mister Rogers’ neighborhood than a globe-trotting statesman or a pontificating fixture on the Sunday talk shows.
He is a putterer who plants bushes in his backyard and designed his own house, including space for his elderly parents. He’s a man quick to find a doctor for someone’s sick grandmother or hold a fundraiser for a local firefighter battling cancer.
This Joe Biden is the son of a car salesman who lost nearly all his money and moved his family from Scranton, Pa., to a hardscrabble neighborhood in Delaware. As a boy, Biden struggled to overcome a bad stutter and the nickname Joe Impedimenta.
As a 29-year-old freshman senator-elect, he lost his wife and infant daughter in a car crash that also severely injured his two young sons. The tragedy almost caused Biden to abandon his political career. And for years afterward, he took the train home almost every night from Washington to Delaware to be with the boys as they grew up.
“I tell people that you get to know Joe Biden the closer you get to Wilmington, Del. And when you see him with his family, then you know the man,” said John Marttila, a longtime friend and advisor who worked on Biden’s first Senate campaign in 1972.
Biden’s family was at the core of his first run for office. His sister, Valerie, ran that campaign, as she has each one since. His brother headed the fundraising operation. His mother and father sat in on most of the strategy meetings.
[…] Biden eked out a victory.
A month later, as he was in Washington interviewing candidates for his office staff, the fatal accident occurred. His wife and three children had been out shopping for a Christmas tree.
Biden didn’t want to take his Senate seat, said Ted Kaufman, another longtime friend who worked on that campaign and would serve as Biden’s chief of staff for 22 years.
Montana Sen. Mike Mansfield, the Democratic leader at the time, convinced Biden to stay in the Senate. (He was sworn in at one son’s bedside in the hospital.) But Biden resolved not to be separated from his family. He gave up a house that he and his wife had planned to buy in the capital and instead went back to Delaware every night.
“The rule in the office was if the boys called, he was to be interrupted no matter what he was doing or who he was talking to,” Kaufman said. “He was never out of communication with them.”
Biden doesn’t move in the Washington cocktail circuit. And when he remarried and started a family with his second wife, Jill, he still returned home to Delaware nearly every night.
“He knew every conductor on the train,” said Mark Gitenstein, who worked for Biden for 13 years and remains close to him.
To this day, Gitenstein and others who know him say, Biden keeps up with the people back home.
One is J.D. Howell, a former chief at the Mill Creek volunteer fire company outside Wilmington.
In 1988, Biden suffered a brain aneurysm. Howell was a member of the ambulance crew that rushed him from Delaware to a Washington hospital, where doctors performed lifesaving surgery.
Fifteen years later, long after Biden had bounced back, Howell was diagnosed with advanced stage lymphoma. Biden called immediately.
“The man was practically at my doorstep,” Howell recalled Saturday before reading a letter the senator sent him at the time. “You wouldn’t let me quit on that fateful night . . . ,” Biden wrote. “Now it is my turn.”
When his fellow firefighters held a benefit for Howell, Biden and his wife came to preside.
From Delaware Online:
Jill Biden has never been shy about saying that politics aren’t her life or her love.
But she’s also been quick to point out that when she married Joe Biden in 1977, she knew she was marrying into politics as surely as she was marrying into the Biden family.
“It was Joe, the boys and the state of Delaware,” Jill said in a 2007 interview.
One daughter, five grandchildren and a teaching career later, it’s Joe and the country.
“I think she’s going to be a real plus,” said Michele Rollins, a die-hard Chateau Country Republican. “She has a lot of dedication to young people. She’s a great hostess, a great mother. She’ll be wonderful.”
Gov. Ruth Ann Minner called Jill a warm, wonderful and friendly person. “I don’t know that she loves to campaign, but she and Michelle [Obama] both will be very active,” she said.
She may not be in the spotlight as much as Michelle Obama, but she’s got a readymade issue: Education.
“As a mother as well as a teacher, I would add that education is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic — it’s about teaching our children how to keep themselves healthy,” Jill told Time magazine.
After they married, she gave up her teaching job to raise Beau, Hunter and Ashley, the daughter she and Joe had in 1981. She returned to her career, teaching high school and at Delaware Technical & Community College, and earning a Ph.D. in education from the University of Delaware.
“It sounds so trite to say I make a difference, but I really feel, especially in a community college, I can make a difference,” Jill said.
Jill was so determined that she would earn her degrees and career on her own that she used her maiden name, Jacobs.
“I wanted everything to be on my own,” Jill said, but she also says she couldn’t have done it without Joe. He sat in a nearby classroom while Jill defended her thesis. She came home to this sign he’d placed along the driveway: “Dr. and Senator Biden live here.”
She prefers a background role, but she’s made at least two exceptions. After several friends were diagnosed with breast cancer, she founded the Biden Breast Health Initiative, designed to teach high school girls about breast self-exams and breast health. She also serves as chairwoman of Delaware Boots on the Ground, a nonprofit that helps military families.
It’s an issue she became sensitive to while campaigning and an issue about to hit home as the Bidens’ son, Beau, attorney general of Delaware, heads overseas Oct. 3 with his Army National Guard unit.
“Defending our nation should not just be left to the sacrifices of a few, but the commitment of us all,” Jill wrote in a column for The News Journal.
UPDATE: I thought I would add my personal encounter with Joe Biden:
Joe Biden was here (I originally thought it was for Kerry, and he was down here then, but I think this happened later, when the Social Security thing was going on). He appeared at the retirement condo where my mom lives. His sons were with him. He told personal stories about his kids, and you could hear the love and pride in his voice. He’s funny and endearing. When most of the crowd had left, there were a few people who went up to Biden to ask him some questions. You would have thought he had all the time in the world. I was standing a couple of feet from him as he spoke to an elderly lady who had had one of those things that look like a tiny surgical mask to cover a tracheostomy. She had been sitting not far from me in the audience, and she had to constantly touch the opening with a hankerchief to stop it from leaking. She had to cover the opening to speak. Color me shallow, but it made me a bit queasy. As she spoke to Biden, he looked at her the entire time and spoke softly to her. The part I will never forget is when he bent down his head so that his forehead rested on hers for just a few moments. He put his hands on her shoulders and then held her hands in his. I honestly got a little ferklempt at the tenderness he showed her. The amazing thing was that it never seemed fake or put on. The tv cameras were already gone. The few people left were not Delaware voters, and he had no reason to put on being nice to anyone. I never got to ask him my question, because his entourage rushed him out to the next stop.
And that’s my personal Joe Biden story.