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Who was Joe Biden's first wife? Tragic past explored as POTUS marks 49th anniversary of 1972 car crash

Joe Biden with Neilia, Hunter and Beau, and Biden and Jill visiting Neilia's grave (Image via Bettmann Archive/ Getty Images, and AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Joe Biden with Neilia, Hunter and Beau, and Biden and Jill visiting Neilia's grave (Image via Bettmann Archive/ Getty Images, and AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Abhirup Sengupta

On Saturday, December 18, 46th U.S. President Joe Biden and his family gathered at the church of 'St. Joseph on the Brandywine' in Delaware. The president commemorated the 49th death anniversary of his former wife Neilia Biden and his 13-month-old late daughter, Naomi.

Neilia and Naomi were tragically killed in a car crash in 1972, just a few days after Joe Biden was elected as the junior U.S. senator from Delaware. Biden's former wife, Neilia, was taking their kids to select a Christmas tree when their car was struck by a trailer truck.

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Biden's other children, Beau (4) and Hunter Biden (3), survived mild non-fatal injuries. Biden considered resigning at the time but was persuaded not to. In 1973, he was sworn in as a Senator while accompanying Beau in the hospital.


What is known about Joe Biden's first wife, Neilia?

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Neilia Hunter Biden was a teacher and a New York native born on July 28, 1942. Her parents, Louise and Robert Hunter were reportedly owners of a local diner. According to the New Yorker, she studied in a boarding school, Penn Hall, in Pennsylvania. Neilia was also reportedly part of the hockey and swimming team and was a student council member.

Later, she graduated from Syracuse University and taught English in schools, including Bellevue Elementary School in Syracuse. After she died in 1972, a memorial was established on the school grounds.

Around 1960 or 1961, Neilia Hunter met Joe Biden in the Bahamas during Spring Break. Biden later moved to Syracuse to pursue his law degree. The couple married in 1966 and had three children together, Beau, Hunter and Naomi.

As per The News Journal, Neilia Hunter Biden spearheaded the plans for Joe Biden's senate campaign in 1972.


What did President Joe Biden say about his first wife's death?

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While speaking at commencement at Yale University in 2015, Joe Biden said,

"While I was in Washington hiring staff, I got a phone call...My wife and three children were Christmas shopping. A tractor-trailer broadsided them and killed my wife and killed my daughter."

Later, in 2019, Biden's second wife, Dr. Jill Biden, mentioned the tragedy in her autobiography Where the Light Enters. She wrote:

"She had an easy, natural beauty, warm, genuine smile."

In her book, she further discussed meeting Neilia Hunter and Joe Biden in 1972. While writing about the accident, she mentioned:

"It was profoundly unfair…to take a mother from her children; to take a daughter from her father. Joe Biden had had everything, and in a horrible second, it was gone."

Neilia Hunter Biden was married to current U.S. President Joe Biden for six years, from 1966 to 1972.


Edited by Srijan Sen

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