The president-elect invokes his late son frequently, the attorney and Army officer’s courage and devotion to his family still an inspiration to his father. Beau died of glioblastoma in 2015, the devastation wrought on the whole family influencing Biden’s choice not to run for president in 2016—but also his decision to go for it in 2020.
In his 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad, Joe Biden reflects on his eldest son’s cancer battle, among other things about the vice-presidency and his own presidential ambitions. He told the New York Times that he wrote the book for his kids and grandchildren, who always wanted to hear stories about Beau.
“I wanted to celebrate Beau’s life and the people he touched,” Joe explained. “Beau had a strict code of honor. That may sound silly, but it’s true. My Dad had an expression: ‘Never explain and never complain.’ I never once heard Beau complain. Not once.”
Joe continued, “One night, when it was clear that the odds weren’t good, he asked me to stay after dinner at his house, about a mile from here. He said: ‘Dad, I know you love me more than anyone in the world. But promise me you’ll be O.K. I’ll be O.K., Dad.’ He had come face to face with his mortality. He watched me go through the loss of his mother and sister. And he didn’t want me to turn inward. He didn’t want me to give up on the robustness of life.”
In his eulogy for his brother, Hunter recalled his first memory of Beau: Waking up in the hospital next to him in 1972 after the car wreck that killed their mom and sister.
Their father told the New York Times in 2017, “Hunt had a skull fracture, almost every bone in his body was broken. And Beau, just 4, in the next bed, held his hand and kept saying: ‘Hunt, I love you. Look at me. I love you, I love you, I love you.’ At the funeral Hunt said in 42 years that ‘he has never stopped holding my hand.'”