Beau Biden at 19: A Look Back

As a freshman at Penn, Beau Biden was photographed for a Philly Mag feature on the sons and daughters of Philly-area notables.

Beau Biden from Philadelphia magazine’s April 1988 feature “Second Generation,” with Rena Potok, left, and Deserie Blavat. Photograph © 1988 Jim Graham

Beau Biden from Philadelphia magazine’s April 1988 feature “Second Generation,” with Rena Potok, left, and Deserie Blavat. Photograph © 1988 Jim Graham

For Philadelphia magazine’s April 1988 issue, then-staff writer Lisa DePaulo brought together 15 sons and daughters of Philly’s famous — among them Dr. J’s son Cheo, Georges Perrier’s daughter Genevieve, and Wilson Goode Jr. — for a story headlined “Second Generation.”

Even in this group of young men and women who would in many cases become notables in their own right, Beau Biden — then a 19-year-old freshman at Penn who had already been through the early tragedy of his mother’s death and the excitement and ultimate disappointment of his father’s first presidential bid — stood out, DePaulo says:

“Because I’m a Scranton girl, I knew a lot about his dad (even though at that time his dad, while a senator, was not hugely known). And it was so obvious he was Joe’s son. Not just that he resembled him, but that he had that common touch — very much like his father in that unassuming, down-to-earth way. All of the kids I talked to for this just exuded hope — most of them got the best of their famous parent.”

Following is the section about Beau Biden as it appeared in the magazine.

He tends to get a little misty-eyed even talking about his father. This is Beau, the senator’s son who at age three survived a car crash that killed both his mother and his baby sister. “But Jill [Biden’s wife of 11 years] is my mom,” he says. “My dad and I like to say that we got remarried.”

He’s a freshman now at Penn, wrapping up a year when turning 19 was the least eventful thing that happened. Dad in the presidential race, Dad out of the race, Dad helping to unseat Bork, Dukakis helping to unseat Dad. At the height of it all, he was asked to fill in for his father on the campaign trail as a speaker at the Young Democrats Convention. “I was so nervous on the plane to Arizona. It was the first thing I’d ever done by myself. They had my speech scheduled after John Dukakis’s, who was filling in for his dad, and before Bruce Babbitt’s,” who was filling in for himself. “So of course there were all these cameras there for Babbitt. But when I started speaking, I really got into it. It wasn’t so bad.”

Then came his father’s withdrawal from the race — “I was so proud of the way he handled it” — and Beau’s first semester away from home. “After New Year’s, my dad and I went to Europe together, just the two of us.” (And the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.) And Beau, who was allowed in on some meetings, found himself yukking it up with Kohl, Gromyko and Mitterrand. “Seeing the respect these people had for my dad … well, it kind of set me back a bit.”

Originally published as part of “Second Generation” in the April 1988 issue of Philadelphia magazine.