Vice President Biden Remembers His Mother as 'Remarkable Woman'

President, first lady honor Jean Finnegan Biden in Wilmington.

ByKaren Travers
January 07, 2010, 5:51 PM

WILMINGTON, Del., Jan. 12, 2010— -- Vice President Joe Biden fondly remembered his mother, Jean, who died Friday, as a devoted mother who taught her children integrity and instilled in them that failure was inevitable "but giving up was unforgivable."

"Catherine Jean Finnegan Biden was somewhat selfishly viewed by our family as a remarkable woman," Biden said in a eulogy at her Catholic funeral mass. "She was a quintessential combination of both optimism and pragmatism. Heroic in her ideals but solid in her expectations."

His mother, who was 92, fell seriously ill last week and died at home surrounded by family. She had been in hospice care before her death, a source close to the family said.

Biden sat somberly throughout the service, with wife Jill and sister Valerie seated beside him at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church, which his mother had attended since 1955.

As his mother's casket was taken down the aisle after the service, the vice president wiped away tears from his face.

With the extended Biden family taking up several rows in the front of the church, Biden said his mother, known as 'Mom Mom' to the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, taught them all that the "thickest of all substances was blood."

"In our view, mom was the sole spirit and essence of what it meant to be an Irish-American mother; devoted to her Roman Catholic faith, proud of her Irish heritage, fiercely, fiercely protective of her family, deeply committed to her husband and always loyal to her friends," the vice president said.

One light-hearted moment came when Valerie Biden Owens, the vice president's sister, approached the lectern to deliver a eulogy and her notes weren't there. "She wouldn't do this to Joey," Owens said of their mother to laughter from the congregation.

After the service, Biden walked down the aisle with President Obama, who put an arm around the vice president's back. The president and first lady Michelle Obama stopped to greet the extended Biden family at the back of the church.

Former President Bill Clinton attended the funeral, while his wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was traveling to Asia.

Several cabinet members and senior administration officials flew up on Air Force One from Washington to attend the funeral mass, including Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Attorney General Eric Holder and senior advisers David Axelrod and Valerie Jarrett.

Biden spoke of the example his mother set for her four children and their children and grandchildren, which he said she called "the Biden standard."

"She taught us never to be intimated by power, wealth or station; that we did not have to accept social convention," he said. "We could set our own standard, one that was based on character alone.

"She believed in us, so we believed in ourselves. How could we do less?" the vice president asked. "When we triumphed she was quick to remind us it was because of others. There's no one better than you, every man's your equal and every man deserves respect."

Mrs. Biden lived with her son and his family at their Greenville, Del., home, in a smaller carriage house on the property. She did not make the move to Washington after he was sworn in as vice president, but the vice president frequently spent weekends in Delaware with her.

In a 2008 campaign speech, Biden extolled the importance of children's taking care of their parents.

"Make sure your mother doesn't go without what she needs in her later years, or your father," he said in Wisconsin Sept. 8

Jean Biden Appeared on 2008 Campaign Trail with Her Son

The vice president often said that his mother "runs the show," depicting her as the classic matriarch of a large family that consisted of four children and over a dozen grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Mrs. Biden's husband, Joseph Biden Sr., died in 2002.

Mrs. Biden appeared to be in good health during the 2008 presidential campaign. She stood on stage with the extended Biden family after her son delivered perhaps his most important speech of his political career, accepting the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

Mrs. Biden even hit the campaign trail with her son, dropping by a picnic in the backyard of their old home in Scranton, Pa., on Labor Day. She voted with her son in Delaware on Election Day, walking hand-in-hand into the school where the polls were located and later joined the family on stage that night for the victory celebration in Chicago.

Biden said today that one of his mother's favorite pictures was from Election Night in Chicago in 2008 as they were about to go out onto the stage. She had Obama on one arm, her son on the other, prompting a granddaughter to say, "Mom Mom is leading us out on to the stage."

She underwent surgery on March 16, 2009 for a hip fracture that she suffered after a fall at home.

Biden went home to be with her at the hospital in Philadelphia and said that when he arrived he told his mother he had cleared his schedule to be able to spend time with her.

That did not sit well with Mrs. Biden, who knew her son had a standing engagement to deliver remarks to International Association of Firefighters later that day.

Biden said his mother insisted he keep that appointment - "She said, 'Joey, talk to the fire fighters.'"

Biden retold the exchange in his remarks to the firefighters in Washington - showing that even the man who is first-in-line to the presidency knows to not disobey his mother's advice.

Biden Frequently Invoked His Mother's Wit and Wisdom

Biden often spoke publicly of his mother and their warm, affectionate relationship was evident in his musings.

One of his most frequently used phrases is, "My mother has a saying?" and he often would regale campaign audiences, politicians and reporters with anecdotes of his childhood and upbringing in Scranton, and later in Wilmington.

His favorite quote? "'God love him,' as my mother would say," Biden loved to recall.

In his remarks accepting the vice presidential nomination at the Democratic National Convention last August, Biden spoke emotionally about the influence his mother had on his life and the lessons she taught him.

"I thank God and I'm grateful that my mom, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, is here tonight," Biden said. "Mom, I love you."

"My mom taught her children, all the children who flocked to our house, that you're defined by your sense of honor and you're redeemed by your loyalty," he said. "Failure at some point in your life is inevitable, but giving up is unforgivable."

Biden said that his mother had such a large role in his life that she even thought she would be useful during the daily grind of the presidential campaign in the fall of 2008.

Biden joked on the trail in September of that year that his mother asked him if he was sure he didn't need her to travel on his campaign plane.

"And I said, 'Mom, I can make it'" then-Sen. Biden said to laughter. But his mother insisted ? "'Do you want me to come with you, honey?'' Biden said she said.

Perhaps he could have used her when the rhetoric grew heated. Biden has described his mother as his fiercest defender, in life and in the rough and tumble political arena.

"'Show me the guy that says something about you, Joey," he said his mother said.

A Mother's Words of Wisdom

Biden, who had a stuttering problem as a child, spoke of how his mother tried to comfort him when he struggled to get his words out.

"She lovingly would look at me and tell me, 'Joey, it's because you're so bright, you can't get the thoughts out quickly enough,'" he said.

In his autobiography, "Promises to Keep," he described a time when his mother marched down to his catholic grammar school to confront a nun who had mocked his stuttering.

"My mother, who was so timid, so respectful of the church, stood up, walked over in front of the nun, and said, '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?'" he wrote.

Biden said his mother could not stand meanness and bullies were at the top of her list.

"When I got knocked down by guys bigger than me, and this is the God's truth, she sent me back out and said, 'Bloody their nose?so you can walk down the street the next day,' he recounted in his convention in Denver. "And that's what I did."

Even though he frequently spoke of his mother's toughness and grit, he also spoke of her softer side.

On St. Patrick's Day last year he said his mother was "the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American."

"She's spiritual, she's romantic, she honors tradition and she understands that the thickest of all substances is blood, and the greatest of all virtues is courage," he said.

After her fall and hospitalization last March, President Obama called Mrs. Biden "a sweetheart."

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