Beau Biden funeral draws mourners from across Washington

Mourning a loss that touched people from the streets of Delaware to the White House and beyond, President Barack Obama and Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Vice-President Joe Biden in bidding farewell Saturday to Biden's eldest son, Beau.

Obama eulogizes vice-president's son as 'scion of an incredible family'

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, accompanied by his family, holds his hand over his heart as he watches an honour guard carry a casket containing the remains of his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, into St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Mourning a loss that touched people on Delaware street corners and far beyond, U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday remembered Beau Biden, the vice president's son, as a public servant who learned through early tragedy what mattered most and resolved to "live a life of meaning" that would lift up those around him.

"He was a scion of an incredible family who brushed away the possibility of privilege for the harder, better reward of earning his own way," Obama said. He described Beau Biden as a son, a father, a soldier and a politician who didn't cut corners in his efforts to serve his country and others.

The president reflected on the "cruel twist of fate" that killed Beau Biden's mother and infant sister in a car crash four decades ago and left three-year-old Beau and younger brother Hunter hospitalized.

Out of that tragedy, Obama said, Beau early on "made a grown-up decision" to live a life of meaning that would benefit others.

The former Delaware attorney general died last Saturday of brain cancer. He was 46.

U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Vice President Joe Biden during funeral services for Biden's son, Beau Biden. (Yuri Gripas/Associated Press)
An overflow crowd of 1,000 gathered for the funeral at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church, where Obama was to deliver a eulogy. Leading political figures also were there, including the U.S. Senate majority and minority leaders, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and her predecessor, Eric Holder, and other Cabinet officials.

Also paying their respects were mourners from across Delaware and beyond, who lined up hours in advance, drawn by their strong bonds to the Biden family.

'Synonymous with Delaware'

"Joe Biden is Delaware, and his son is also Delaware to me," said Lisa Rial, 54, who grew up in Delaware but lives in Pennsylvania. "They're synonymous with Delaware."

In addition to Obama, Biden's two surviving children, Hunter and Ashley, were to speak, as was Gen. Ray Odierno, the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, where Beau Biden once served. Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin was to perform a solo. The White House said Martin had heard through a family friend that Beau Biden was a Coldplay fan and volunteered to attend.

Beau Biden's casket lay in honor in the state Senate chamber on Thursday ahead of a public viewing at St. Anthony on Friday.

The vice president, whose wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash four decades ago, developed a reputation over the years for possessing a deep ability to comfort those in grief. Often, he is called upon to eulogize fellow American leaders.

In 2012, he spoke of his son's service in Iraq as he tried to comfort a group of grieving military families.

"When he came home — it's going to sound strange to you — we felt almost a little guilty because he came home," Biden said at that time. "Because there's so many funerals I've attended, so many bases I've visited. And you know, not all losses are equal. Not all losses are equal."

Expressions of sympathy

Beau Biden served two terms as attorney general before setting his sights on the governor's mansion. Many imagined his career would mirror that of his father, who represented Delaware for decades in the U.S. Senate before becoming vice president.

Mourners view the funeral procession for former Delaware attorney general Beau Biden. (Matt Rourke/Associated Press)
But in 2010, at age 41, Beau Biden suffered a stroke. He was diagnosed with brain cancer three years later. He returned to work after what doctors said was a successful operation to remove a small lesion, but his illness returned, and he died last Saturday, less than two weeks after being admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

His death drew passionate expressions of sympathy from across the political spectrum, the sense of sadness heightened by the tragedy that the Biden family has endured over the years. It was just weeks after Joe Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972 that Beau and his brother Hunter were injured in the car crash that killed their mother and infant sister.

Tight personal relationship

White House officials said the choice of Obama to deliver a eulogy reflected the tight personal relationship that Joe Biden and the president have developed after more than six years together in the White House.

In Washington, the House and Senate have adopted resolutions expressing sorrow over Beau Biden's death. The Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, established last week to continue his efforts to protect children from sexual predators, has already received more than 1,100 donations totaling roughly $175,000.