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Barbara Eagleton talks about Joe Biden, the father

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 23, 2008 - Barbara S. Eagleton, widow of former U.S. Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton of St. Louis and an influential Democratic figure in her own right, said Saturday she is "thrilled with the choice" of Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., for the vice presidential slot on the 2008 ticket with presumed presidential nominee Barack Obama.

Eagleton said her late husband's relationship with Biden went all the way back to his earliest days in the Senate. "When Joe arrived in Washington, his office wasn't ready so Tom let him use his office," she said.

Although Biden came to the Eagletons' house in Washington for dinner a couple of times, he was very much not a rider on the Washington social merry-go-round, Eagleton said. With few exceptions, she said, "He went home to Wilmington every night to be with his kids."

In 1972, shortly after Biden was elected to his first term in the Senate, his wife, Neilia Hunter Biden, and their infant daughter, Naomi, were killed in an automobile accident. Two other children, Joseph III, called Beau, and Hunter Biden were seriously injured but survived. Joseph Biden considered it paramount to be with them, Eagleton said. Thus began his practice of taking the hour and a half train trip back and forth, to and from Washington daily.

In 1977, Biden married Jill Tracy Jacobs. They have one daughter, Ashley. Jill Biden, like her husband, lives in Wilmington, and teaches school there, Eagleton said.

Biden and Thomas Eagleton were next-door office neighbors on Capitol Hill. In 1972, Eagleton was also a vice-presidential pick, but removed himself from the George McGovern ticket in 1972 when a history of physical and nervous exhaustion was made public. Like Biden, Eagleton was a Roman Catholic. If elected in 2008, Biden would become the first Roman Catholic vice president.

Barbara Eagleton has been an enthusiastic supporter of the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama from the beginning of his triumphant march toward his party's nomination, and she has given speeches for him at rallies. On Monday, she threw an Obama fundraiser.

Her similar enthusiasm for Joe Biden is based on more than personal friendship and Democratic Party loyalty. Obama's choosing Biden "fills in the blanks," she says.

"He knows as much about foreign policy as anyone, with the exception of Sen. Lugar (Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind.)." Biden is chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and sits also on the Committee on the Judiciary. "He is such a good choice," Eagleton said. "Good all around."

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.