Valerie Biden Owens is one of the president-elect's closest confidantes

By Virginia Chamlee and Adam Carlson
November 13, 2020 10:05 AM
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Valerie Biden Owens (in red) applauds during President-elect Joe Biden's remarks on Nov. 7 in Wilmington, Delaware.
| Credit: Chuck Kennedy

Valerie Biden Owens has seen her brother through a slew of personal tragedies, as well as decades in public life marked by stumbles, setbacks and, most recently, sustained attacks by his political rival. But for a moment on Saturday, as major news networks began calling the election for Joe Biden, it was clear her brother's moment had finally arrived.

After learning of his projected win, Owens, properly masked, drove directly to her older brother's Delaware home, where she was greeted by his kids, Hunter and Ashley, and his many grandchildren.

"We were all thrilled and numb and happy," she told PEOPLE in a recent interview. "It was a magnificent day. And it was ... almost surreal."

Thrilled that her brother, 78, had fulfilled a lifelong goal, Owens, 74, acknowledged that the election was about much more than victory. For the Bidens, it was about changing the political atmosphere in America.

"It was overwhelming ... certainly I was thrilled that my brother was elected president of the United States, but all along I knew that the election was about so much more than my brother being president," she said. "I mean, really, and truly ... this was about, in my brother's words, restoring the soul of America. And I knew, I believed with my whole heart and soul that my brother was the right person, at the right time, for all the right reasons."

Owens has touted those reasons throughout her brother's campaign, making stops throughout the country to speak to voters about who Joe is, and what he has endured throughout his life.

In his memoir Promises to Keep, Biden wrote of Owens: "She has been my best friend my entire life." That friendship has been apparent to those who've watched Bidens career and personal growth over the years.

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Growing up, Owens helped Biden overcome a debilitating stutter. As they grew older, their relationship began expanding into the professional; Owens has served as the now president-elect's closest political adviser for nearly 50 years, managing all of his Senate campaigns as well as his first two presidential races.

Owens has also been by her brother's side throughout his personal tragedies, which include losing his wife and daughter in a 1972 car accident, and losing his son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015. His perseverance in the face of loss, she suggested, make him uniquely positioned to lead the country through a time of loss brought on by a viral pandemic.

Beau (left) and Joe Biden in 2009
| Credit: Khalid Mohammed/Reuters

"I think it's part of his fabric. Lots of people have tragedy and sorrow in their lives. Life has a way of interrupting, I say, and there's no accounting for what it dishes out to us. There's only accounting for how we deal with it," Owens said. "And because Joe has tasted tragedy, as well as triumph, as he has walked the walk, people respond to him and there's comfort in knowing that somebody else gets it."

Biden's own resilience, said Owens, stems from his faith, as well as his close relationship to his family.

"There've been dark times in Joe's life and he's held that faith that has carried him through ... there's no slicing of the pie of faith and who Joe is," Owens told PEOPLE. "That’s who Joe is: faith, family and responsibility."

Those close to the former Vice President say that there's no daylight between the private person and the public servant.

Raised in a middle-class, Irish Catholic family, Biden (the oldest of four kids) has spoken openly about his faith throughout his time on the campaign trail.

Faith was at the center of his victory speech on Friday, as he referenced a hymn that played at Beau's funeral Mass in 2015.

President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: Drew Angerer/Getty

"The quiet, the traditions, the ceremonies, the connection is very real to him and the Psalm that he ended with has always meant something to our family," Owens said. "I think in this whole campaign, that Beau has his arm around my brother. I actually believe that."

When discussing her brother's victory, Owens is quick to note that the election is about more than Joe Biden. In many ways, it's a hard-fought battle that comes after a year of social unrest and in the shadow of a worldwide pandemic.

It's also, in many ways, a direct rebuke of President Donald Trump.

Biden himself has often framed his campaign as a battle to redeem the soul of the nation, a message he elaborated on Saturday in an optimistic speech flecked with pleas for unity.

As the American electorate finds itself in need of empathy, Owens said her brother is well-equipped to lead the charge.

"I say that, you know, America is a tapestry, we're still a work in progress and it's been shredded, instead of continuing weaving the beautiful tapestry, we've been ripping it apart," Owens said.

"[Our] mom said, ‘Bravery resided in every heart and that one day it would be summoned,’ " she continued. "And I think at this moment, that the bravery of the American people was summoned. And they met the moment when they chose and elected Joe."