On May 30, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced that his son, 1991 College graduate Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III had died. He was 46.
Beau Biden graduated with a degree in history from Penn and then attended law school at Syracuse University. While at Penn, he was a member of the fraternity Psi Upsilon, better known as Castle.
Biden’s fraternity brothers remember him as a friendly, humble and modest kid. “Everyone knew who he was — his name and status was joked about sometimes, but he was really just a normal guy,” said Eric Garrard, a 1991 College graduate and Biden’s sophomore year roommate.
“He was just this fresh-faced kid,” 1989 College graduate and Biden’s “Big” in Psi Upsilon Evan Haymes agreed. “He perpetually looked like he got the joke and that he was up to no good.”
In 1988, while Biden was at Penn, his father, a Delaware senator at the time, ran for president. Though he was ultimately unsuccessful, the campaign made Beau’s name known across campus.
Retired history professor Bruce Kuklick, who taught Biden, said he did not let the fame get to his head. “He was very, very modest and unassuming. Especially at a place like Penn, you get a lot of kids who are arrogant for many reasons,” Kuklick said. “He had every reason to be arrogant, but he wasn’t like that at all.”
Haymes agreed. “Whatever silver spoon people perceived in his mouth frankly never existed. And he would have spit it out if it had,” he said.
In the classroom, Biden’s friends remember him as a conscientious and hardworking student. 1991 College graduate Michael Hochman met Biden on their freshman hall in the Quadrangle. He remembers him simply as “the smartest man I’ve ever met.”
Hochman remembered taking a political communication class with Biden and staying up all night together studying. In class, he said he was confident and engaged.
Though Garrard never took a class with Biden, he vividly remembers arguing with him about politics until 6 a.m. “We argued a lot,” he said. “When he first found out I was a Republican, he didn’t even want to meet me.”
“His beliefs were his beliefs — when you argue with someone like that, the tension is palpable,” Garrard added, though he said that ultimately they remained good friends. “He changed the way I thought. Living with him was the most educational experience of my life, and I spent a year living in Russia under Gorbachev,” he said.
Beside being intelligent, friends remember Biden as adventurous and a prankster.
“Friendship with Beau was hysterical, fun and memorable,” Hochman said. “Everything was an adventure; it was all interesting and more fun.”
While at Penn, Garrard said Biden had a habit of playing pranks on his fraternity brothers. Garrard recalled a time when Biden stole some dead fish caught by one of his brothers and hid them around the Castle house in his brothers’ rooms.
Haymes remembered when, only a few years ago, he and Biden sprinted through Union Station in D.C. to catch the last train home. “We literally ripped through the entire station, laughing the entire time. When do you just get to act like a kid like that?” he said.
During Biden’s time as a brother of Castle, the fraternity got into trouble on campus. In 1990, 10 members of the fraternity were arrested on charges of kidnapping after tying a member of a rival fraternity to a tree and subjecting him to racial epithets. The fraternity was kicked off campus for five years because of the incident.
Though Biden was a brother, his friends insisted he was far removed from any drama associated with the fraternity. In fact, many of them agreed Biden did not even drink alcohol until he turned the legal age of 21.
“Beau was nowhere near any of that. His hands were totally clean,” Garrard said.
Haymes agreed. “The concept of bullying was so against everything he stood for. Beau’s personality and his abstinence from drinking — it all kind of unintentionally made him a leader,” he said.
Through his legacy and his “magnetism,” Hochman calls Biden his “best friend ever since college.” Hochman, who was born in Miami, even followed Biden to Delaware and became an attorney there. “I’m a better man for knowing him. He’s had a tremendous influence in my life,” he said.
On Saturday night, Biden's father released a statement, saying "It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life.”
His death comes after a long battle with brain cancer. Last week, it was announced that Biden had been hospitalized at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center just outside D.C.
In 2010, Biden was first hospitalized for what was described as a mild stroke. Then, last year, he was admitted to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Though Biden’s prognosis was serious, he kept his medical issues private. “Beau was his own man. He did everything on his own,” Haymes said. “A lot of his friends reached out to him, but he wanted to keep his health issues close to the vest.”
Biden, who was a Delaware native, served two terms as the state's attorney general before stepping down last year so he could seek the governorship in 2016. Hochman said that Biden was still planning on running for the office as recently as a few weeks ago.
“Even until his last days, he was convinced he would beat [the cancer],” Hochman said.
Haymes agreed, noting he did not say goodbye to anyone before his death.
Biden’s health issues are not the first time tragedy has struck the Biden family. In December 1972, Biden’s mother Neilia and sister Naomi were killed in a car accident that captured national attention and catapulted Beau and his brother Hunter into the media spotlight.
“That car crash really made Beau and Hunter the property of the populus,” Garrard said, noting that the population of Delaware “really owned and protected those boys.”
Garrard also said that, though his illness was never announced, many people in Delaware were aware Biden had been struggling with health issues. “Anybody in that town could have made that national news, and they didn’t — I think that says something very powerful.”
Even with Biden’s pronounced career, it is still Beau’s friendship that his classmates miss. “I know it sounds like a stretch, but he had an IQ relative to people’s sensibilities. He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world,” Garrard said.
Hochman agreed, recalling how fondly Biden remembered his days at Penn. “He loved his alma mater; he was a very proud Penn grad. Somewhere out there, he’s smiling down on us with his varsity letter jacket,” he said.
For Haymes, Biden’s life was cut too short. “He was a rising star, and he always has been,” he said. “Who knows what else he could have accomplished.”
Biden is survived by his wife Hallie, two children, his father Joe, stepmother Jill, his brother Hunter, his sister and 2010 School of Social Policy and Practice graduate Ashley and several nieces and nephews.
President Obama will deliver Biden’s eulogy at his funeral on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Del.Comments powered by Disqus
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