September 28, 2008
Joey is going to be President some day. . . . I’ll bet you anything we’ll be calling him President Biden within the next 20 years.
— Valerie Biden Owens, sister of Senator Joe Biden
quoted in “Triumph Over Disaster” by Kitty Kelley
Good Housekeeping, February 1975
I first heard of Joe Biden when I read the article quoted above. Kitty Kelley, who would later become known for her unauthorized (and frequently unflattering) celebrity biographies, was a freelance journalist at the time, placing work in various women’s magazines and big-city Sunday glossies. I was a subscriber to Good Housekeeping, and I can see myself sitting in the patchwork love seat in the apartment described here. I was 28 years old, unattached, lonely, and depressed, and as I read about this “bright young liberal senator” who was struggling to fulfill his promises to his constituents as well as to his two motherless little boys, I fell in love.
As I write, we are five weeks and two days from the U.S. presidential election in which Joe Biden is running for vice-president along with Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Most people reading this probably know the particulars of Joe Biden’s life and career now, even if they didn’t know much about him before. The article I read that late winter day in 1975 gave the facts that were pertinent then: that on Christmas Eve of 1972, a few weeks after Joe Biden had been elected to his first term as the senator from Delaware, his wife and infant daughter were killed in a car accident that also injured his two sons, then three and two. He considered relinquishing his senate post but was persuaded not to. He took the oath of office in his sons’ hospital room. He never moved to Washington, returning instead each afternoon to his home in Wilmington to care for the boys. He had battled anger and doubted his faith early on, but two years beyond the tragedy, he had regained his bearings.
Attractive and single, he was sought after on the Washington party circuit. He had a social life, but it was not extensive, since his dual roles required so much of his energy. Besides, it was not really his style. “I am not a womanizer,” he told Kitty Kelley. “I much prefer the company of women to men, but I am a one-woman man. I’m not a playboy. I would like very much to fall in love and be married again because basically I’m a family man. My children need a mother, and I need a wife; but I have no plans to get married in the near future.”
I began to fantasize about being that mother those little boys needed, about being the woman who would step in and become the father’s helpmeet. I chose to ignore the fact that as a lonely and depressed young woman who hadn’t had a date in more than six months I might not be the most attractive and lively companion. I concentrated instead on my other qualities. I was a nice Catholic girl (or could start being one again if that were what was called for) with a good education, handy and adventurous in the kitchen and elsewhere (the reason I subscribed to both Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan), and sincere.
I made some inquiries of a relative who was a D.C. lawyer and a college friend who was on a lobbyist’s staff, hoping to secure an introduction. I don’t remember whether my contacts even responded. In an effort to keep myself from sinking completely into the Slough of Despond, I enrolled in a community college course that studied movies made from famous novels. One of my fellow students asked me out for coffee after class one night, and we were engaged before the semester ended.
That had its own unhappy ending, but at least it got me moving out of my depression and helped advance me on the road to the life I have now. But I never forgot Joe Biden, and I followed his life and career (including his marriage in 1977 to a woman he met in 1975 — see, he was ready!). I made a modest contribution when he considered running for president in 1984, and again in 1988 (the only political contributions I have ever made).
I was an Obama supporter early on, and I can’t think of a scenario or a different running mate he might have chosen that would cause me to turn away from him. But I have to say that his choice of Joe Biden only strengthened my loyalty, and it has made me happy during the contentious and wearying events of recent weeks to be able to see what became of those needy little boys and their courageous, devoted father, and to see that Joe Biden has found the same level of joy and support in his life that I enjoy in mine.
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