Meet Jill Biden - A First Lady For The Ages
The Australian Women's Weekly|February 2021
She is the first president’s wife to keep her day job, and also the force that’s held her family together through victory and heartbreaking grief. Nick Bryant profiles Jill Biden – cool grandma, merry prankster and the courageous new First Lady of the United States.
Nick Bryant

It was the night last March when Joe Biden knew in his heart he had seen off his Democratic rivals and earned the right to go head-to-head with Donald Trump in the presidential election. Back then, the coronavirus had yet to devastate America. Big gatherings were not considered a health hazard. So the former Vice President celebrated his string of victories on a date in the US political calendar known as Super Tuesday, in front of a packed crowd of supporters at an outdoor rally in Los Angeles. With his wife Jill and sister Valerie at his side, the 50-year Washington veteran’s trademark grin seemed wider and brighter than ever.

Five minutes into his victory speech, however, there was a commotion behind him, and the future President’s face betrayed concern, even alarm. A protester had somehow evaded security and jumped on the stage. Alert to the danger, Jill managed to block the protester from reaching her husband. Then, as the first protester was bundled away by security, another rushed the podium. This time, Jill leapt to her husband’s defence, raising her arms to stop what turned out to be an anti-dairy activist.

Her poise in that dramatic moment was extraordinary. “We’re okay, it’s okay,” she reassured her husband, as campaign aides belatedly managed to restore order. Then she started clapping, like a mother on the sidelines encouraging a child who has just been tackled to get on with the game. Her broad smile was the signal for Joe to resume his speech.

Within seconds, Jill had gone viral. She was trending on Twitter. She became the heroine of a torrent of admiring memes.

“No need for Secret Service when your wife is Jill Biden,” read one. “Jill Biden leaps in front of Joe to protect him, while Melania can’t barely bring herself to hold Donald Trump’s hand,” observed another.

America realised that night what those close to the Bidens have known for decades: the country’s new First Lady is the most formidable of women.

“That moment was Jill in all her encapsulations,” says family friend Wade Randlett, a key figure in Team Biden. “‘I’m in the fray. I’m going to do crazy stuff, but it’s still going to be fun.’”

If the country’s outgoing First Lady, Melania Trump, looks like she has stepped from the set of a high-end ’80s soap opera like Dynasty or The Colbys, Jill Biden could easily be cast as a much-loved matriarch, like Sally Field in Brothers & Sisters. Hers is a distinctly American beauty – so much so, that when Vogue conducted a family photo shoot near the Bidens’ holiday home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, the writer thought the pictures looked like they belonged in a Ralph Lauren catalogue.

But it is the mind and character of Jill Biden that should interest us more. The 69-year-old has four degrees, including a doctorate in education. She is a professor of English at the Northern Virginia Community College, a role she kept up while her husband served as Vice President for eight years under Barack Obama. White House aides said it would be insane to juggle a full-time teaching role with her duties as the Second Lady, but Jill was undeterred.

“Teaching is not what I do,” she explains. “It’s who I am.” Whenever she accompanied her husband on official overseas trips or speaking engagements around America, she would bring with her a stack of student coursework to mark.

When Jill delivered her keynote speech at the Democratic National Convention last summer, she did so from an empty classroom where she used to teach in Delaware. “This quiet is heavy,” she said of the school forced into shutdown by COVID-19. “The rooms are dark as the bright young faces that should fill them are now confined to boxes on a computer screen.” Rather than affecting faux concern, it seemed to be the real thing.

Even though she has now become America’s First Lady, following in the footsteps of luminaries such as Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama, she has no intention of giving up her day job. With that, she is breaking new ground. No presidential wife has ever continued to pursue her paid career after moving into the Executive Residence at the White House.

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