Vice President Biden Remembers His Mother as 'Remarkable Woman'

President, first lady honor Jean Finnegan Biden in Wilmington.

ByABC News
January 7, 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