Joe Biden’s first wife Neilia Hunter and baby girl died 50 years ago

President Biden's two boys were injured in a car crash

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Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the death of President Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia Hunter Biden.

Mr Biden met her while on spring break from the University of Delaware. He sneaked in to an exclusive beach club in the Bahamas, where he saw her by the swimming pool.

“When she turned towards me, I could see she had a beautiful smile and gorgeous green eyes,” he wrote in his memoir Promises to Keep. “She was lit by the unforgiving journey of a full afternoon sun, and I couldn't see a single flaw.”

Despite their different upbringings ― hers more on the posh side and him being, “just a kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania” — along with opposing political leanings, the two were married in August 1966 with their first son Beau arriving in 1969, followed by son Hunter, and a year later daughter Naomi.

The father of three and his wife set goals and mapped out what would prove to be Mr Biden’s political ascendancy that would lead him to the highest office in the US.

Neilia supported all of her husband’s political aspirations and was a key player in Mr Biden’s first run for the senate. His victory over Republican challenger J Caleb Boggs made him the second-youngest candidate to win a seat in the US Senate.

Joe Biden takes his oath of office from US Senate secretary Frank Valeo in son Beau's hospital room with his father-in-law, Robert Hunter, at his side. Bettmann / Getty Images

Two weeks later, on November 20, the young family cut a cake to honour Mr Biden’s 30th birthday. Christmas would be just around the corner and then, in January, the swearing-in ceremony. The Bidens had so much to look forward to.

A week before Christmas Day, Mr Biden headed to Washington to set up his new offices on Capitol Hill, while Neilia and the children stayed behind to go holiday shopping and see Santa. She loaded up the children into the family estate car and headed out for the day.

At around 2.30pm on December 18, 1972, Neilia crashed into an oncoming lorry, launching the vehicle 46 metres into an embankment. The family was taken to hospital where Neilia and Naomi were pronounced dead on arrival.

Beau sustained a broken leg and Hunter, a fractured skull.

Mr Biden wrote in Promises to Keep that for the first time in his life he understood anguish so bad that you want to take your own life — but he stuck around for his sons and took his oath of office in their hospital room, both at his side.

“To lose a child is like having a piece of your soul ripped away. There's a hollowness in your chest, you feel like you're being sucked into it,” Mr Biden said following the Uvalde massacre at a Texas elementary school. “And it's never quite the same.”

In 2015, Mr Biden's son Beau died of brain cancer.

Mr Biden, who keeps a notebook with many of the eulogies he has delivered, has visited countless families suffering from grief — from fallen soldiers to the parents of George Floyd — earning him the nickname of consoler-in-chief.

While giving a speech at Yale University, soon after learning of Beau's cancer diagnosis, Mr Biden said: “There will come a day — I promise you, and your parents as well — when the thought of your son or daughter, or your husband or wife, brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.

“It will happen.”

Updated: December 17, 2022, 11:39 AM