That sounds pretty cool,” replied Valerie Biden Owens. “I like that. I’ll take that. Thank you. Do you want me to comment on that? (laughs) I’ll just say thank you. I better leave it alone.”
Owens may have the message control her big brother, President Joe Biden, sometimes lacks, but that doesn’t mean she’s afraid to speak her mind.
Take the code word that the Secret Service gave her: “Hurricane,” she laughed. “I took that as a compliment, that I was a force of nature. But I was a good force of nature.”
“And how have you been a force of nature for Joe Biden?”
“I’ve been a sister. That’s what you have at the end of everything. You go to family.”
Democratic Presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden – Super Tuesday
Valerie Biden Owens stands with Vice President Joe Biden and Jill Biden during a Super Tuesday election night party at Baldwin Hills Recreation Center in Los Angeles
Family is at the heart of her life story, now told in her memoir, “Growing Up Biden.” The book is populated by her parents and three brothers, whom she calls Jimmy, Frankie and Joey.
Since age 25, she’s led her brother’s seven Senate races and first two bids for the presidency. Valerie Biden was the first female presidential campaign manager.
O’Donnell asked, “After years of success, you were often up against people who thought a woman couldn’t, or shouldn’t, run a political campaign.”
“I had it a lot easier than some women,” she said, “because my brother pulled up a chair to the table, which was men, [and] he said, ‘This is my sister. She speaks for me. What she says, assume that I say it.’
Valerie Biden Owens with CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell on the campus of the University of Delaware in Newark, home of the Biden Institute.
The campaign that cemented the Biden legend was Joe’s 1972 Senate run. His unexpected victory was followed by unspeakable tragedy – a car accident that killed his wife, Neilia, and 13-month old daughter, Naomi. Sons Beau and Hunter were badly injured.
“The president said of you, ‘She has not only believed in me, she helped me believe in myself,'” said O’Donnell.
“We did the improbable, winning this Senate race by 3,163 votes,” Owens said. “And we had this young, promising Democratic star, who was now a young widower with his heart ripped out. And he said, ‘The boys cannot get another father. The state of Delaware can get another senator.’ That’s when my belief in Joe was so powerful that he could do both. I said, ‘Joe, you gotta do it,’ because my brother is about purpose. And he needs a purpose.”
The crisis gave new purpose to Valerie, too. She quit her job, and moved in to become like a parent to Joe’s boys.
“In spite of the tragedy, it was really a magnificent time,” she said. “Beau and Hunt were two and three years old. And I remember every day saying, ‘I promise you, Neilia, I’ll love them like they’re my own.'”
She eventually married Joe’s law school friend, Jack Owens, and has three kids of her own – as well as a career as a campaign strategist and advocate for women. Today, at age 76, she chairs the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware – her, and her brother’s, alma mater.