Jean Biden, who raised her son Vice President Joe Biden to believe in what he called “America’s creed … everyone is your equal,” died Friday after falling ill in recent days. She was 92.
In a statement, the vice president said she died in Wilmington surrounded by her family and loved ones. She had suffered a broken hip in a fall in March 2009.
“Together with my father, her husband of 61 years who passed away in 2002, we learned the dignity of hard work and that you are defined by your sense of honor,” he said in the statement. “Her strength, which was immeasurable, will live on in all of us.”
Joe Biden Jr. was first elected to the Senate in 1972, shortly before his 30th birthday. His mother helped out by organizing coffee klatches – part of a family effort that also included Biden’s father, sister and brothers.
“Those of you who have met my mom, you know she’s fairly politically astute, and she still runs the show,” the vice president quipped shortly after she fell last year.
“You think I’m joking? I’m not,” he said.
The former Catherine Eugenia Finnegan was born July 7, 1917, in Scranton, Pa. In 1941, she married businessman Joseph Biden Sr., with whom she had four children. The couple moved from Scranton to Claymont, Del., in 1953, when their eldest son, Joe, was 10 years old.
According to Biden’s 2007 autobiography, “Promises to Keep,” his mother had some reservations about whether he should risk a promising career as a young lawyer to enter politics.
“You’re not going to run for Senate and ruin your reputation, are you?” he recalled his mother asking.
“And once Mom was reassured that my future was safe, win or lose, she would do anything,” Biden wrote.
Biden was elected vice president as Barack Obama’s running mate. In his speech at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008, he paid tribute to his mother, who was in the audience.
“My mother’s creed is the American creed: No one is better than you,” he said. “Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you. My parents taught us to live our faith, and to treasure our families. We learned the dignity of work, and we were told that anyone can make it if they just try hard enough.”
Biden said he also learned honor and loyalty from his mother.
“When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, and this is the God’s truth, she sent me back out the street and told me, ‘Bloody their nose so you can walk down the street the next day.’ And that’s what I did.”
Raised in a family with a strong Irish Catholic tradition, Jean Biden leaned on her faith in comforting her eldest son after his wife and daughter were killed in a car crash in December 1972, the month after he was elected to the Senate. His two sons were seriously injured.
“After the accident, she told me, ‘Joey, God sends no cross that you cannot bear,'” Biden recalled.
In his autobiography, Joe Biden recalled being mocked by a seventh-grade nun for his stuttering, an incident that sent his mother to his school in a fury, her children in tow.
“If you ever speak to my son like that again, I’ll come back and rip that bonnet off your head. Do you understand me?” she told the nun.
Joe Biden also recalled how when his mother couldn’t find a pair of cufflinks for him to wear to an eighth-grade dance, she fashioned a pair from nuts and bolts, which left him mortified.
“Now look, Joey, if anybody says anything to you about these nuts and bolts, you just look them right in the eye and say ‘Don’t you have a pair of these?'” she told him.
Jean Biden is survived by the vice president, daughter Valerie Biden Owens of Kennett Square, Pa., and sons James Brian Biden of Merion Station, Pa., and Francis W. Biden of Florida. She had 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Details of services will be released in coming days, the vice president’s office said.