Post Author
Donna Clothier
Former Shelby County Chair

Authors  Contributors

David Gaul
Donna Clothier
Kathleen Cue


It is not too often that a person can reaffirm their belief in someone, so it is was with a sense of gratitude and humility, that I can say it happened to me last week after hearing Vice President Joe Biden speak to a group of parents, wives and husbands and others who have lost relatives serving in the military.  The audience was made up of members of T.A.P.S., an acronym for Tragedy Assistance for Survivors, and they came to see and hear the Vice President and his wife, Jill.  Without a doubt, no one was prepared for the gut-wrenching talk that they were about to hear.

The Vice President stood at the podium and let his soul pour out to the people sitting before him.  He told of the day in 1972, shortly after his election to the U.S. Senate, when he was notified that his family had been involved in a serious car accident and that his wife and young daughter were killed instantly, and his two young sons were in critical condition.  He was in Washington, and he had to get back to Delaware to be with his sons and plan for the funerals of his spouse and daughter.  On his way out of the Capitol Building, he walked through the Rotunda, raising his arms imploring God to help him. 

Then he described the physical and emotional pain he endured during the ensuing months   He hung his head and described how he now understood how a person can be so emotionally devastated that they would think of suicide.  He had been there.  It was quite evident to the audience that they were seeing a man reliving the emotional pain that they all understood, the permanent separation from their loved ones.  Anyone who saw and heard this Joe Biden had to admire his courage for being so forthright in his admission to human frailty.  This was not a politician seeking an office.  This was a man sharing his pain with strangers who had come to be healed. 

My introduction to the then candidate-for-President, Senator Joe Biden, came on November 11, 2007, when he came to Harlan, Iowa, to speak at the Shelby County Historical Museum.  He came into the museum on a beautiful fall day to tell the folks in attendance that he would be their best choice for President at the Iowa caucuses in January.

I was the Chairman of the Shelby County Democratic Party, and so it was my responsibility to greet and introduce the Senator to the audience.  Before we started the formality of the event, my husband and I gave him a short tour through the museum.  He was obviously tired, but he kept up the banter while we gave him a brief introduction to the displays.  We took him to the back room and showed him the old voting machine that was standing against the wall.  His eyes lit up when he saw that it was set for 1972, the year he was elected to the Senate.  He found Senator Harkin’s name and reminded us that that was when “Tom was running for Congress.”  It was then that we began to see the man, not just the candidate.

Just before I was to introduce him, he took me aside and asked me to be sure to say that he wrote and sponsored the first Violence Against Women Act in 1994.  He went on to describe that the bill, although controversial, was passed with a bipartisan vote in both houses of Congress.  So, it was time for me to introduce the Senator to a small, but interested group, of potential voters in 2008.

It wasn’t long before his vast knowledge and obvious love of our country and government mesmerized the audience.  He was unstoppable, and no one cared.  After the formal speech was over, he stayed around to talk with everyone;  he answered their questions and kept on smiling. 

Fast forward to Thanksgiving, 2007.  I had been notified by the Obama campaign that it had made arrangements for then Senator Obama to come to Harlan on Saturday, the 24th of November.  So, besides worrying about plans for our Thanksgiving, I had to organize the event at the Harlan Middle School for the Saturday night after Thanksgiving.  Done!

Our family had plans to drive to Iowa City and spend Thanksgiving Day with the grandchildren and their parents.  As with all family celebrations, the anticipation soon became reality.  We had a great dinner, dishes were washed, the kitchen cleaned up and we all settled in for a comfortable family evening. 

My cell phone rang.  It was the manager of Senator Biden’s campaign requesting that Mel and I be in Audubon on Sunday evening to meet Senator Biden at the airport and drive him into an event at the Tea Room in Audubon.  I quickly informed the young man that Audubon was in Audubon County and that we were from Shelby County, so it seemed that there was some confusion as to who should be meeting the Senator.  He responded quickly, saying, “He asked for you and Mel.” 

Okay.  We would be back in Harlan on Saturday, the 24th, to introduce Senator Obama at his event, so we would be in the vicinity on Sunday.  I asked the man on the other end of the phone if Senator Biden needed anything special, and he laughed, saying, “Just don’t pick him up in a foreign-made car."   No problem, we had a 1999 Buick LeSabre and it would have to do. 

There we were, sitting beside the runway of the tiny airport in Audubon on a gorgeous fall night, watching a full harvest moon coming up over the horizon.  We giggled, wondering what we would have done in this situation thirty or forty years earlier, but here we were, waiting to greet Senator Joe Biden--a candidate for the Presidency.  How unreal. 

Soon, we saw the small, two-engine plane circling the field, getting ready to land.  We got out of the car and waited.  The plane landed and slowly made its way close to the small building that housed a restroom, a lounge and the instruments and computers used by pilots.  We walked to the plane and greeted the Senator, his niece, his campaign person and two pilots.  After short introductions, we went back to the car.  I started to climb into the backseat with the two other women, only to hear a jovial voice tell me to ride up front with my good husband.  That truly broke the ice and calmed the nerves.  It began an evening whereby I got to know the man, not the politician. 

We arrived at the Tea Room with the Senator at exactly 7:30 p.m.  Mel and I were greeted warmly by good friends and some strangers, and then we turned our guest over to the Audubon County Democrats.   The crowd was small in comparison to the Obama gathering the night before in Harlan, but they were enthusiastic nonetheless.  After his introduction to the audience, Joe Biden began a planned hour-long conversation with the group.  He asked for questions and responded with clear and concise answers.  The planned hour extended to two.  Nobody seemed to be in a hurry.  It was a great event!

We retraced our short trip back to the airport, fully expecting the Senator to jump out of the backseat, say a quick good-bye and thank you and board the plane.  He didn’t.  He wanted to talk.  He told me that his sister was ill and anticipating gall bladder surgery in a day or two.  By then he knew I was a retired RN, and he asked me what I thought about fiber optic surgery for that procedure?  So, I recounted my past experiences with that surgery in the good old days and told him that I thought the modern procedure was far better. 

Then, he wanted to know about Western Iowa--the people, the culture and the prospects for a Democratic candidate in 2008.  I was totally honest with him, telling him the area was very conservative, very religious and in some ways, still quite narrow minded when it came to race, sexual preferences and, of course, the big one, abortion. 

With that, he recounted two experiences he had had while campaigning in his home state, Delaware.  He told us about being picked up by a very large man at an airport in the southern part of his state.  When he was about to get out of the car, the man said to him, “I am sure glad to have had you aboard, Senator.  The last guy I had to take to a political event was a G-D Catholic!”  The Senator started to laugh as he recalled the story and said that he told the guy, “Thank you for the ride, and by the way, I am a Catholic!” 

His other story regarded race.  He was going to another event and was riding in a limo driven by a very good-looking African-American gentleman.  His companion was the mayor of the city.  When they came to their destination, the door was opened by the handsome black man, and the mayor extended his hand and said, “Thanks, Boy!” 

Biden told us that he was appalled.  We discussed the racial issue and how it would play out in Iowa.  I am afraid I didn’t read the tea leaves well that evening and told him that at that moment, I couldn’t see Obama getting much out of Iowa. 

At the end of the hour or more we spent talking, it felt as though we had been good friends for a long time.  It was comfortable.  Normal.  No grandstanding, no hyperbole, no indication that this man was anything but genuine and totally honest.  He laughed at us when we told him we had discussed what we would have been doing in our younger years under a full moon, all alone in an old Buick.

He laughed and told us, “You never forget what to do under a full moon!  And shame on you if you do.”

At last, the pilots signaled it was time to board the plane and fly on to their next stop in Iowa.  Our brief interlude was about to end.  Just before the Senator boarded his plane, he turned around and said thank you to Mel, but to me he said, “Thank you, Madam Chair!  Love you!”  With that I got a hug and a feathery kiss on the cheek from the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

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User Name: Sherry Toelle   Date: 5-30-12

Donna, great article about Joe Biden. I could almost picture myself there with you, you are so eloquent in your writing. Thanks for the memories!

User Name: Nancy Christensen   Date: 05/30/12
Donna, Just finished reading your blog and it is very good. I remember you telling me about it when it happened and it still sounds great. thanks!

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