Being With the Bidens

Last week, I traveled to Wilmington, Delaware, to attend the services honoring Beau Biden's life. The event, which brought thousands from around the state and country, turned into a bittersweet reunion for hundreds of current and former Biden staffers, each of us reminded in our own way of the connection we will always have to this remarkable family. We didn't come to bid farewell to Beau because we had to. We did it because we lost a member of our own family -- a man we loved in a way that only the Bidens could have shown us was possible.

Joe Biden is not an easy man to work for. He is singularly good at his job, and he expects the same from everyone around him. The first time he criticized my work, I remember thinking, "There are 7 billion people on this planet, and the vice president loves every one of them but me." But without fail, he'd find me after every speech to make sure he said thanks. "Great job, man," he'd whisper, even when I was sure he didn't mean it.

He was never unfair and always compassionate, even when he was unhappy. We once started drafting a new speech an hour before an event, and with 10 minutes to go, my computer crashed, and I lost everything. He didn't even raise his voice. After one particularly grueling rewriting marathon, he turned to me and said, "No one warned you what you were signing up for, did they?"

I had been warned, actually. I knew that the vice president, caricatured for his extemporaneous remarks, was actually an exacting speechwriter. I knew the value he placed in the power of words. I knew that he would devote more time to preparing for a speech than any other politician in Washington. I had expected the late nights and early mornings, the frustrating -- seemingly endless -- rounds of edits. I had expected the most exhausting, intense years of my life.

What I hadn't expected was the love.

The Bidens are the closest-knit family I have ever met. They're also the most welcoming. From the moment you join the team, you are part of that family -- and you feel it. The first time I was working on a speech late at night with the vice president, I could hear Jill cheering loudly at the television upstairs. "She's watching the Flyers," the vice president told me, chuckling to himself. By the time she came downstairs, it was past 10 o'clock at night. Before I could introduce myself, she was offering me a scotch and apologizing that her husband was keeping me at their house and away from my own.

She was so kind to me, and so sweet with him. He beamed at her as she headed to the kitchen. "You want to know the secret to my marriage?" he asked me. "I love her more than she loves me."

Then there is Valerie, the vice president's sister, the one who saved his life after his wife and daughter were killed in the crash, and raised his children as her own in the years after. I've never met two closer siblings. They call each other best friend, and it's clear they have been since childhood. Like her brother, she wears her emotions plainly and proudly on her sleeve. She has his warmth, too, and the desire to share it with the people who matter to her. If you were a member of her brother's staff, you mattered to her -- and you felt lucky for it.

It was always such a treat to learn that members of the Biden family would be joining us on the road. It was both an escape from a difficult job and a reminder of why it was such an honor to do it -- not just because of the office of the vice presidency but because of the character of the man who occupied it. It meant watching him move seamlessly between political force and doting grandfather. Their affection was infectious.

When members of his staff get together to reminisce about our time in the White House, so many of our fondest memories involve the Biden family: the times when Jill would plot elaborate practical jokes, or when Hunter would tell stories from his childhood. We were always so excited to see them.

But we were never more excited than when we found out Beau was joining us. His mere presence would light up a room. The vice president sometimes joked that, politically speaking, Beau seemed more like President Obama's son than his. He was always so precise with his words, so disciplined, so focused. At the same time, Beau was deeply present -- as warm and generous as his father, as decent and kind as his mother. When Beau was around, you knew you were in the presence of greatness. And yet he treated every one of us as equals. He made us feel valued and respected. He was the living embodiment of his grandmother's adage: "No one is better than you, but you're no better than anyone else."

Beau was one of the few people the vice president genuinely looked up to. He wasn't just proud of his son; he was impressed with him. Every time Beau was on television, his staff would send a transcript to his father. The vice president would stop what he was doing to read it, then inevitably hand his smartphone to the nearest staffer. "Look how good this kid is," he'd say. When circumstances dictated that the vice president give a very brief speech, we could always convince him to stay on script by telling him that Beau would be standing by the teleprompter. He wanted Beau to be as proud of him as he was of Beau.

We did too.

Dylan Loewe is a principal at West Wing Writers.