Competence. Respect for differences. Grace. Largesse. Family values. Humility.
When Joe Biden was a young boy struggling with stuttering, his mother used to tell him: “Joey, remember that no one is better than you. But also remember that you are not better than any other person either.”
That message, and the values it implies, helped to make our President-elect the person he is today.
How wonderful it will be to have a President of the United States who is a man of character and poise, dignity and respect for others.
I am privileged to know him and to have experienced his kindness and warm-heartedness. His desire to lift others up.
In 1970-71 I was a senior at Brandywine High School in Wilmington. My social life was, however, with a group of friends who were students at the University of Delaware. One of those friends was a guy named Joe Eshbach, whose first cousin was the young U.S. Sen. Biden. When Joe Eshbach and I reconnected and married in 1983, I learned more about the relationship between my husband and the Bidens.
Over the years I learned how my husband Joe had loved his Aunt Jean, Joe Biden’s mother, for the strong, loving, remarkable and inspiring woman that she was.
A person who impressed upon her children the importance of character, family and service to others. Those traits were passed onto her children and grandchildren. When, in the late 1960s, Joe Eshbach needed a place to live, Joe Biden and his first wife, Nelia, opened their home to their cousin. In 1969, soon after Joe Biden and Nelia’s son, Beau, was born, my future husband Joe Eshbach moved to Newark to attend the University of Delaware.
In July 1996, I assumed my first college presidency at Fairmont State University in West Virginia. One of my first responsibilities was to travel to Washington, D.C., to pay my respects and establish a relationship with the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
On that first trip, and on subsequent trips to lobby on behalf of my institution, I made it a point to stop by Joe Biden’s office. Sen. Joe always received me warmly, though frankly he did not know me all that well at the time. He graciously took me around to the offices of many highly influential members of Congress, introducing me as the president of Fairmont State University, and telling his congressional colleagues, with a broad grin on his face: “See, I always said that one day there would be a president in my family.”
In my first year as President of Salisbury University, I was told that we needed a commencement speaker for our December 2000 graduation ceremonies.
I said that I thought I knew of someone who just might come to Salisbury on a last-minute invitation.
Joe Biden agreed, and prior to the ceremony we all sat around the table at the President’s House, relaxed and happy. It was a great opportunity for my children to get to know this cousin a bit better.
He was so down-to-earth and relaxed, and I had to laugh as I listened to Joe Biden and Joe Eshbach reminisce and argue about who was, as a kid, more athletic.
Joe Biden is down-to-earth, yes, but also incredibly impressive. Joe Biden’s knowledge of the workings of Washington and, more importantly, the world, made me think that he was the person who should one day become President of the United States. Yet it seemed like a longshot, given that the Senator represented the small state of Delaware.
Over the years my husband and I have been fortunate to interact periodically with Cousin Joe Biden. He has visited us while we vacationed at the beach. We attended his mother’s funeral and the inaugural events when President Obama and Vice President Joe were elected.
At the Obama-Biden traditional prayer ceremony at St. John’s Episcopal Church (known as “the Presidents’ church”) our seating was up with the immediate family (our son was surprised to see Oprah Winfrey seated several rows behind!).
In September 2018, when my son got married on the beach in Ocean City, we were all surprised to see the former Vice President, walking along the beach by himself with no security escort, looking a bit out of place along the sand dune in a handsome suit and, of course, his signature aviator sunglasses.
While we had invited him to the wedding, we had not expected that he would be able to come.
As I hugged him and told him how much it meant that he had changed his speaking schedule to join us for our son’s wedding, Joe Biden said: “Janet, this is about family.”
All of which to say, Joe Biden’s priorities are in the right place.
He has endured so much profound loss over the course of his life that we are reminded that hardship can make us stronger, can ground us and lead us to recognize the things that are truly important in life.
Our nation has become so very divided, and many of us hope he will be the President who will help heal and unite us. We should all be reminded that –regardless of political party-- what matters is character. Integrity, decency, civility, and high ideals do matter in our elected officials.
My husband and I phoned Cousin Joe around noon on Saturday, the day the Associated Press and other media called the vote for President-elect Joe Biden.
To our surprise, he took our call and heard our joy and expressions of best wishes.
Above all, however, he wanted to hear about us, how our children and grandchildren were doing, what we were up to, what future plans we might have.
He recalled the days back in the late 1990s when I was “the president in the family.” We thanked him for his public service and for his willingness to assume the incredibly difficult responsibilities that lie ahead.
But again, he is unassuming and quickly turned the conversation around, telling us he was grateful for everything he had learned from my husband and me over the years.
Grace, humility, character.
My family members and I pray for Joe Biden’s well-being and that of his loved ones. We wish him and members of his administration success.
I smile to myself, remembering how he used to introduce me to others, saying to his congressional colleagues: “See, I told you one day there would be a president in my family.”
My message to President-elect Biden is this: “Joe, you have more than earned the title of president. Just remember that I was a president first!”
Janet Dudley-Eshbach is the President Emerita and Professor at Salisbury University.