By Wade Gilley
Gilley is a retired university president who served as Secretary of Education under Gov. John Dalton and had one appointment by President Reagan. He is a native of Carroll County.
Well, one thing is for sure: former U.S. Senator and Vice President Joe Biden is one persistent guy.
I learned this more than thirty years ago, when I met Sen. Biden in Fairfax, Virginia. He was aggressive and persistent back then, too.
We first met in the early 1980s when I introduced him as a guest speaker for the International Students Association at George Mason University, where I served in the administration and as a faculty member. Biden had agreed to address a group of international students during a special international week at the university.
On Wednesday morning, a week before the scheduled speech, the Director of International Programs at GMU called to inform me that a mistake had occurred, and that Biden was on his way from the Capitol to speak at the university. She was very nervous because there was no way to reach him during the drive to Fairfax (no cell phones back then).
We decided that she would round up a group of international students and let Senator Biden believe that all was well, but she wanted me to come introduce him. In a forty-five-minute scramble, we managed to gather more than one hundred students and others in an academic building with a lecture hall. Biden arrived to a full room, and we escorted him to the lectern, where I introduced him.
He set his briefcase down beside the podium and took out a paper, then proceeded to give an energetic speech, one of interest to a group of students from nine different countries who spoke multiple languages. As the speech progressed, some students slipped out the back, heading to their next class. But the majority stayed over and entered discussions with him. His energetic presentation seemed to influence the entire group.
Walking the senator back to his car, I apologized for the lack of organization, but he simply patted me on the shoulder and thanked me for the opportunity. Biden was aggressively persistent for sure and I sense he is that these days.
I came across him again a few years later while visiting the Capitol to meet with Sen. Strom Thurmond from South Carolina, who was President pro tempore of the Senate at the time. Thurmond and I had walked from the Capitol to his office in the Senate office building, as I was doing some consulting work for him regarding higher education, particularly related to his home state of South Carolina.
As we were sitting in Thurmond’s office talking with the doors open, I could see the hallway outside the office complex. There I noted another senator walking back and forth: Biden of Delaware.
As Thurmond and I talked, I could not help but notice Biden walking back and forth again and again. Finally, I said, “Senator Thurmond, excuse me sir, but I think another senator wants to see you.”
With that he leaned back and looked out into the hallway before offering a slight smile. “Oh, that’s Senator Biden from Delaware. He wants to talk…again.”
I offered to wait if Senator Thurmond needed to talk to him. But Senator Thurmond smiled and winked at me. “Senator Biden wants to talk about something we have discussed before.” He smiled and said, “It’s a private thing and he is persistent, so persistent.”
Biden’s persistence prevailed again and again over the years. He became known as one of the most prominent political people in the country, eventually becoming vice president under President Obama.
I do not know how the 2020 election will pan out, but I do know that Vice President Joe Biden is focused, tenacious and will be hard to shove away. And, he has the experience, the know-how and the persistence to win.