Tango investigates Jill and Joe Biden's union.
JOE BIDEN AND JILL JACOBS BIDEN
Married Since: 1977
Family Album: Three children, five grandchildren
Joe Biden and Jill Jacobs met in 1975, set up on a blind date through Joe's brother, Frank. Joe had seen a beautiful woman in a local advertisement and later that night Frank gave Joe the woman's number, not knowing Joe had formed a crush from afar. Although she had almost sworn off dating after her failed first marriage, Jill said yes when Joe asked her out. They married two years later, the second marriage for both.
Joe Biden was born in Scranton, PA in 1942 and grew up outside Wilmington, Delaware. He graduated from the University of Delaware in 1964, the same year he met his first wife, Neilia Hunter, whom he married in 1966. He graduated from Syracuse law school in 1968, and was elected to the United States Senate in in 1972, in a surprise victory over a Republican incumbent.
Six weeks after winning the election Neilia and their three children were out shopping for a Christmas tree when they were hit by an oncoming truck. Neilia and Naomi, their one-year-old daughter, were killed; their two- and three-year-old boys, Beau and Hunter, were seriously injured.
Joe was sworn into office from Beau's hospital room. Depressed and unenthusiastic, he almost gave up his new job. According to The New York Times, Senate staffers were placing bets on how long he would last. When he started work Joe told his staff that if his sons ever called he wanted to talk to them immediately, no matter what he was doing. A single father for 5 years, Joe made a daily two-hour Amtrak commute between DC and Wilmington. After marrying Jill he continued this practice; the family was never part of the DC political scene. Joe later said that the accident taught him "to always let the people you love know you love them, and never let something go unsaid."
Jill Jacobs was born Hammonton, NJ in 1951 and grew up in Willow Grove, PA. She, too, attended the University of Delaware for undergrad education, but left early after getting engaged. When her marriage didn't work out Jill returned to college as a senior, at age 24. In addition to her BA, she has two masters' degrees and a doctorate in education.
From 1993 to present Jill has been a professor of English at Delaware Technical and Community College. In 1993 she started the non-profit Biden Breast Health Initiative after three friends developed breast cancer and one of them died. She's also involved with Book Buddies, which provides books to low-income children, and Delaware Boots on the Ground, which helps military families.
The Bidens place a high value on family; Joe's two sons were an integral part of their courtship. “We dated together,” Jill told the Iowa Independent. “We got married as a family. We were all there and the boys were on the alter when we got married.”
Beau Biden, now the Delaware Attorney General, told Jay Leno that Joe and Jill "dated for a while, and we had to tell our dad 'When are you gonna ask Jill to marry you? I think he knew right away, but we kind of coaxed him. And soon thereafter my brother and my dad and I asked my mom to marry us."
In Promises to Keep, Joe's 2007 autobiography, he describes the wedding: "We hadn’t told anybody but our family and closest friends. The ceremony itself was family only—but that counted nearly forty. Beau and Hunter stood with us at the altar. Since all four of us were getting married we [thought we] should include the boys on the honeymoon."
According to Promises to Keep, when Joe asked Jill how she could marry him, knowing how much he had loved his first wife, she replied, "That's the reason I can marry you. Anybody that can love that deeply once can do it again." Joe and Jill have one daughter together, Ashley Biden, born in 1981.
“I would not say that I’m a political activist,” Jill told the Iowa Independent. “Of course, [Joe and I] care about a lot of the same things, but we don’t always have the same position on issues. I like to say that we compliment one another. I think what I do in my life experiences has a positive impact on Joe and, hopefully, it expands to have a positive influence on other people.”
Although Jill has described herself as apolitical, after Bush won in 2004 she asked Joe to run for president. She told the Iowa Independent, "We talked as a family before Joe even knew about it and we went to Joe two years ago and said, ‘We think you are the only one that can pull together the red states and the blue states and build consensus on issues that are important. We think you should run.’ And, he did."
Before Joe dropped out of the 2008 presidential race Jill told Time magazine that if she were first lady education would be her first priority. She added that "education is not just about reading, writing and arithmetic, it's about teaching our children how to keep themselves healthy. My focus would include teaching about health issues like obesity, the dangers of smoking and educating young girls about breast cancer and the importance of self exams."
Joe and Jill Biden have a strong relationship. Jill told Time that Joe has a romantic side and The New York Times described him as being head-over-heels in love with his wife after 30 years of marriage. When Biden introduced Jill at the Democratic National Convention he described her as "drop dead gorgeous."
No matter who wins the election this November, the Bidens will continue to be an example of how a marriage should work.