“The Biden family is Delaware's family,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said during a private service inside the Legislative Hall. “Know that we grieve with you.”
Hundreds lined the sidewalks leading to Dover’s Legislative Hall Thursday where Joseph “Beau” Robinette Biden III lay in honor.
For many, it was like a family gathering.
“The Biden family is Delaware’s family,” Delaware Gov. Jack Markell said during a private service inside the hall. “Know that we grieve with you.”
The former Delaware State Attorney General and son of Vice President Joe Biden, Beau Biden died on May 30 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, after a battle with brain cancer.
Thursday’s service was the first of three in Delaware attended by friends, family and many state and national politicians.
The first mourners began arriving outside Legislative Hall as early as 10:30 a.m. in a cool morning drizzle.
Uniformed secret service patrolled the area alongside mounted police and first responders, and a huge flag hung between two extended firetruck ladders on Martin Luther King Ave.
Walker Green, Philadelphia, said he comes to the hall often to lobby for campaign finance reform. All this week, he said, staff at the Legislature had been somber.
“They’re all like family [to him] so they are affected by his death,” Green said.
By 11: 30 a.m., politicians and other VIPs started to arrive for the private 1 p.m. service. A public service was held at 2 p.m.
DelDOT had closed many of the streets near the hall and ran five DART buses continuously from the Blue Hen Corporate Center to downtown.
Dozens of vehicles streamed into the parking lot with some people arriving by 11 a.m. Cecile Coleman of Dover was one of the first.
“The Biden family is very close to my family. We have a long history,” Coleman said. “My [late] husband Rev. Rudolph Coleman [and Biden] were very close friends and Beau, I knew personally, so I just had to be here for his daddy and for him.”
A large contingent of area firefighters boarded shuttles at the lot. Pat Peterson waited to board another bus.
“We’ve known the Biden family for about 50 years and knew Beau since the time he was actually born,” Peterson said. “The Bidens have always been there for us and now it’s our time to be there for them. It’s a sad moment, and I wish was here for a different reason than to say goodbye to Beau. It breaks my heart.”
Once the buses were full, they headed downtown, where they maneuvered around barricades to a temporary bus stop about a block from Legislative Hall. The riders then joined the growing line of mourners. Rain fell off and on through the afternoon but few left the line despite not having umbrellas.
Shortly before 1 p.m., Beau Biden’s procession, including the Vice President and his family, travelled south from Wilmington past Delaware State University to the hall.
A casket, draped in an American flag, was carried inside where desks have been cleared out of the Senate chamber for the brief service. Almost all of the 62 lawmakers in the Delaware General Assembly attended the service.
Those who spoke, including former Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Attorney General Matt Denn, former Delaware Chief Justice Myron Steele, did so from the Senate dais, just above Beau Biden’s casket.
“Because of what Beau Biden did in this very building, the children of Delaware are safer for generations to come,” Markell said. “Beau made Delaware a better place for us all. And he did so because of his determination and his persistence, because of his intellect and his willingness to fight.”
Markell presented the Biden family with the Delaware Conspicuous Service Cross. After the private ceremony, the doors were opened to the public.
“I think you can see by virtue of the huge number of people who showed up who wanted to pay their respects that this was an important thing to do,” Markell said outside the hall.
Just before 4 p.m., the Vice President, Jill Biden, Hallie Biden and Hunter Biden, Beau Biden’s brother, remained in the receiving line as members of the public continued to pay their respects. The VP was seen embracing Delawareans he recognized, and sometimes smiling and speaking loudly enough for his voice to carry through the chamber.
The viewing service was scheduled until 5 p.m. but the Vice President remained past the set time to greet those who stood in line to pay their condolences.
A viewing was to be held Friday and a Mass of Christian Burial was planned Saturday, June 6, at 10:30 a.m. at St. Anthony of Padua RC Church in Wilmington. President Barack Obama was to deliver the eulogy at this mass. Both took place after the Kent County SUNDAY’s press deadline.
Adam Koppeser, Ben Mace and members of the White House pool contributed to this report.