‘A man of character’: Obama delivers emotional eulogy for Beau Biden

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By Stephen Collinson and Sunlen Serfaty

CNN

WILMINGTON, Delaware (CNN) — President Barack Obama eulogized Beau Biden Saturday as a good man of character “who loved deeply and was loved in return,” hailing the compassion and public service of his family in a moving funeral oration to grief-stricken Vice President Joe Biden’s son.

Obama said that the former Delaware Attorney General and Iraq War veteran, who died a week ago from brain cancer at 46, was a fine man who was full of integrity and refused to trade on his family name. He did his duty to his country and “did not have a mean bone in his body,” Obama said.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, right, stands with Holly Petraeus, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office of Service Member Affairs, at a press conference Jan. 20, 2012, at The Landings Club at Dover Air Force Base, Del. They also met with base leadership during a round table dialogue and hosted a town hall meeting with airmen from Dover Air Force Base to discuss issues including housing, for-profit schools, used car lots, loans, debt collection and the Service Members Civil Relief Act.

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, right, stands with Holly Petraeus, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Service Member Affairs, at a press conference Jan. 20, 2012, at The Landings Club at Dover Air Force Base, Del. They also met with base leadership during a round table dialogue and hosted a town hall meeting with airmen from Dover Air Force Base to discuss issues including housing, for-profit schools, used car lots, loans, debt collection and the Service Members Civil Relief Act.

“Beau Biden brought to his work a mighty hearty, he brought to his family a mighty heart,” Obama said in his eulogy, during which he appeared on the verge of being overcome several times.

“Beau Biden was an original. He was a good man, a man of character, a man who loved deeply and was loved in return.” Obama said.

When he had concluded his eulogy, Obama stepped down from the pulpit of the St. Anthony of Padua Roman Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, and folded Biden in his arms, placing a kiss on his vice president’s cheek.

Obama said Beau Biden had refused to run for the Senate when the path was open for him to follow in his father’s footsteps because he had unfinished work in Delaware, where he made a name for himself by fighting to protect children who were victims of abuse. He was, Obama said, “someone who cared, someone who charmed you and disarmed you and put you at ease. ”

Earlier, General Raymond Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit to Beau Biden, hailing him as a member of a brotherhood of soldiers who had “deep moral and ethical roots.”

Odierno said he got to know Biden when he served in Iraq and said he had possessed a “natural charisma that few people possess,” adding that he fully expected him to serve as president of the United States one day.

“People willingly wanted to follow him, trusted his judgment and believed in him. Frankly, he was selfless to a fault,” Odierno told mourners.

Beau Biden’s funeral cortege had arrived at the church heralded by a pipe band. The vice president, wearing dark glasses, and the rest of his family, all looking bereft, formed up behind the hearse. Biden occasionally whispered in the ear of Beau’s widow Hallie, and comforted his son’s two children, Natalie and Hunter.

The casket, covered in an American flag, was removed and carried gently into the church with full military honors, reflecting Beau’s service as a captain in the Army National Guard in Iraq.

Earlier, Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, daughters Sasha and Malia and his mother-in-law Marian Robinson, all dressed in black, left the White House, where the American flag stood at half-staff to honor Beau Biden.

The first person in line for the service arrived at 4:30 a.m., and by breakfast time, the line of mourners stretched around the block at the church.

Obama’s eulogy was both a show of respect for Beau, with whom he had a personal relationship and a sign of the deep bond that has grown up between the President and his deputy.

“Over the last seven or eight years, the Obama family has grown very close to the Biden family and the President did have a personal relationship with Beau Biden,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Friday. Earnest said the President felt the death in a “very personal way,” but was also “looking forward to spending some time tomorrow celebrating Beau’s life.”

Joe Biden’s role as a grieving father is not without irony in itself. The vice president has become one of the most sought after eulogists in Washington as his painful personal history — he lost his first wife and an infant daughter in a car crash in 1972 — has made him especially compassionate to the tragedies of others.

Musicians performing at the event include Coldplay vocalist Chris Martin, who had heard through a family friend that Beau Biden liked his music and volunteered to attend the ceremony, a White House official said.

Other high profile mourners included Bill and Hillary Clinton, and a long list of high profile Washington figures, reflecting Joe Biden’s near half century in politics, including Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell and the Democratic leader in the House Nancy Pelosi.

Senators Harry Reid, Patrick Leahy and Joe Manchin were there, along with Delaware Democratic Senators Chris Coons and Tom Carper and other senior members of the House and Obama’s cabinet, the White House said.

Saturday’s funeral follows two days of mourning and memorial events for Beau Biden, which has showcased the deep emotional anguish the vice president and his family are enduring following his death a week ago.

Some people waited five hours just to get into see the casket on Friday.

According to people inside the room, the vice president shook everyone’s hand as they moved past the casket. One woman said the vice president apologized that the wait was so long but thanked them for coming.

“The Biden family is an icon here in Delaware,” said Jack Morton, who once worked for them. “We are here to pay our respects, not just to a great person, but to a great family.”

Faith Green, who worked for Beau Biden as well as one of his father’s earlier political campaigns, paid tribute to his character.

“Anybody that wanted to talk to Beau, he took the time to talk to you and listen to you,” said Green as she waited outside the church Friday to pay her respects to the casket.

CNN’s Lindy Royce and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

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