Neilia Hunter Biden was the first wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, and her tragic death has caused Biden immeasurable grief. His son, Hunter Biden, who is speaking at the Democratic National Convention on August 20, was in the car when his mother died. He survived the crash, along with his brother, Beau, who later died tragically of brain cancer.
Before his current wife, Jill, Joe Biden was married to Neilia Biden, who died young in a car accident at the age of 30 along with the couple’s 1-year-old daughter Naomi. Over the years, Joe Biden has spoken openly about surviving the crushing grief he faced when Neilia and Naomi died – and, again, when his son Beau Biden died at 46 years old from brain cancer.
Joe Biden brought up both family tragedies in the first Democrat debate when he talked about the need for better healthcare, and his family pain is expected to be discussed against at the Democratic National Convention as he accepts the nomination. “I can’t imagine what it would have been like not to have adequate healthcare,” he said, referencing his first wife and daughter’s deaths and how his two sons were injured.
When his son had terminal cancer, said Biden, “I can’t fathom what would happen if they had said the last six months you’re on your own.”
Beau and Hunter Biden, Joe’s sons, were Neilia Hunter Biden’s children with Joe Biden, although they were also very close to Jill Biden, who married the grieving Joe Biden in the 1970s.
Grief has helped forge Joe Biden’s character; Biden is now poised to enter the 2020 presidential race.
Here’s what you need to know about Neilia Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s first wife:
1. Neilia Biden Was Driving to Get a Family Christmas Tree When the Tragedy Occurred
The tragedy dates back decades to 1972; Joe Biden had just been elected to the U.S. Senate in Delaware when his first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, decided to take the couple’s three children – sons Beau and Hunter, and daughter, Naomi – to get a Christmas tree. Only Hunter and Beau survived the accident, although they were also injured in it.
According to Politico, the Biden vehicle was struck by a truck carrying corncobs as they journeyed to pick out a Christmas tree.
Police determined that Neilia Biden “drove into the path of Dunn’s tractor-trailer, possibly because her head was turned and she didn’t see the oncoming truck,” according to Newark Post Online.
2. The Other Driver’s Daughter Was Upset by Joe Biden’s Comments on the Crash
What caused the crash? By police accounts, it appears that it wasn’t the fault of the other driver and, contrary to comments Joe Biden has made over the years, it appears to be a tragic accident not associated with alcohol use.
Despite comments that Joe Biden has made over the years about drinking and driving being linked to the crash, according to Politico, the driver of the truck, Curtis C. Dunn of Pennsylvania, was not accused of drunk driving or any wrongdoing in association with the crash.
“For whatever reason, Neilia Biden, who was holding the baby, ended up in the right of way of Dunn’s truck coming down a long hill,” Politico reported. A friend of Biden’s who looked into the accident at the time told Politico, “She had a stop sign. The truck driver did not.”
In 2008, the then-deceased Dunn’s daughter Pamela Hamill demanded an apology from Biden, according to Newark Post Online. He died in 1999. She was upset that Biden had claimed that Dunn was drinking, when police did not find such.
“I just burst into tears,” Hamill said to Newark Post Online. “The story already is tragic enough, why did he have to sensationalize it by saying my father was drunk? My family is outraged.”
3. Biden Has Described Neilia as His ‘Very Best Friend’ & ‘My Sensuous Lover’
Over the years, Biden has discussed his great love for Neilia, including to the author Kitty Kelley. “Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover,” he told her in 1974. “The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports. Most guys don’t really know what I lost because they never knew what I had.”
Joe Biden was able to find love again, to Jill Tracy Jacobs Biden. At the time, she was an English teacher, and they met on a blind date in 1977, Politico reports. Americans know her as their former second lady. The couple has a daughter, Ashley Biden, together.
As if the death of Neilia was not enough, Joe Biden would eventually lose another family member far too young, his charismatic politician son, Beau, who died of brain cancer, only 46 years old.
According to his obituary, Beau died in 2015. “It is with broken hearts that Hallie, Hunter, Ashley, Jill and I announce the passing of our husband, brother and son, Beau, after he battled brain cancer with the same integrity, courage and strength he demonstrated every day of his life,” Joe Biden said.
At the time of his death, Beau Biden was planning to run for governor. According to The Associated Press, he was a lawyer, a member of the Delaware National Guard and former Delaware attorney general. His full name was Joseph Biden III.
According to CNN, Joe Biden called his son “quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.” Beau Biden served in the Iraq War. He was survived by his wife, Hallie, and the couple’s two children, Natalie and Hunter.
4. Neilia Hunter Biden Was the Daughter of Diner Owners & Married Joe Biden When He Was in Law School
According to The New Yorker, Neilia was “the daughter of diner owners in upstate New York” when she met Joe Biden in 1966. He was in law school when they married.
Joe Biden was raised in Pennsylvania and Delaware; his father was a car salesman.
When Neilia’s mother asked Joe Biden was he intended to do for a career, he told her, “President of the United States,” the New Yorker reported.
Biden has stayed close to the Hunter family; in 2014, he attended the wedding of the daughter of Neilia’s brother.
His sister, Valerie, helped Joe Biden raise Beau and Hunter, then toddlers, after Neilia died. “They had lost their mom and their sister, so they cannot lose their father, and that’s what made him get out of bed in the morning,” she said, according to New Yorker. Biden commuted every day after his wife died so that he could be with his sons, according to History.com. He was sworn in to the U.S. Senate while in the hospital at the bedsides of his sons.
5. Biden Has Discussed His Overwhelming Grief on Public Occasions
Biden spoke about the loss to a group of soldiers’ families, describing how the pain made him understand why some people contemplate suicide. His second wife, Jill, and the passage of time allowed him to endure the grievous loss. He has discussed the tragedies in circumstances that allow him to help others suffering grief because he has walked in their shoes.
In the 2012 talk, Biden said, according to ABC News: “For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide. Not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they’d been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again, that it was … never going to be that way ever again.”
He explained that the grief was a “black hole,” but it’s possible to forge on, saying, according to ABC, “Keep thinking what your husband or wife would want you to do. Keep thinking what it is, and keep remembering those kids of yours, or him or her the rest of their life, blood of my blood, bone of my bone, because, folks, it can and will get better.”
In 2017, Biden spoke about his grief in his book, saying, “The pain had seemed unbearable in the beginning, and it took me a long time to heal, but I did survive the punishing ordeal. I made it through, with a lot support, and reconstructed my life and my family. When I talk to people in mourning, they know I speak from experience. They know I have a sense of the depth of their pain.”