Neilia Biden is the late wife of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. She married the future vice president in 1966 and the couple had three children together: daughter Naomi and sons Beau and Hunter. In 1972, she and her children were involved in a car crash. The accident killed her and Naomi, while Beau and Hunter were injured but survived. Only weeks prior, the then 30-year-old Biden was elected to his first term as senator in Delaware.
While giving the commencement speech at Yale university in 2015, Biden described the tragic event, as reported by The Washington Post.
“Six weeks after my election, my whole world was altered forever. While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call. My wife and three children were Christmas shopping, a tractor trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter. And they weren’t sure that my sons would live.”
She Played An Important Role In Biden’s Early Electoral Success
Born Neilia Hunter on July 28, 1942, in Skaneateles, New York, she had an active youth while attending Penn Hall boarding school in Pennsylvania, according to Women’s Health. She was involved in French club, hockey, swimming, and student council while there. She went on to attend Syracuse University after she graduated. While in college, she took a spring break vacation to Nassau, Bahamas, where she and Biden met for the first time.
Shortly after meeting, Biden relocated to Syracuse to attend law school at the university. During this time, Neilia was pursuing her master’s degree in English and would teach the subject in the Syracuse City public school system. Around the time of Biden’s graduation, the couple were engaged and would move to Wilmington, Delaware.
After several years in Delaware, Biden — who was working as a lawyer and serving on the New Castle County Council — embarked on a campaign to unseat Sen. J. Caleb Boggs. While considered a long shot upon his announcement, Biden went on to pull off the upset and begin his long career as a senator, with Neilia considered the “brains” of his campaign.
Her Death Was A Defining Moment In Biden’s Life
Tragically, Neilia would not see her husband serve as a senator. On December 18, 1972, she would take her three children out to do some Christmas shopping, while Biden was in Washington, D.C. Their vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer, which killed Neilia and Naomi while leaving Beau and Hunter seriously injured. Biden’s swearing into the Senate took place at the hospital in Wilmington, where his sons were being treated.
Biden described the pain of losing his wife and daughter as unbearable in the beginning and was only able to begin his healing after a long time. While speaking to the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) in 2012, the then vice president described the ordeal as a “black hole you feel in your chest, like you’re being sucked back into it.”
In that same speech, he also described how Neilia continued to shape his life long after her death, as he often thought about what she would do or how she would respond when making difficult decisions.
“There will come a day, I promise you, and your parents, as well, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” he said.
In the aftermath, Biden vowed to maintain a close relationship with his sons, refusing to relocate them to Washington, D.C., and instead commuting by train from Wilmington for his senatorial duties. He continued the practice for 37 years.