Biden remembers ‘dear friend’ Jean Carnahan, the first Missouri woman in U.S. Senate

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President Joe Biden on Wednesday weighed in on the death of Jean Carnahan, the first Missouri woman to serve in the U.S. Senate and a former Missouri first lady, calling her a “dear friend.”

The Democratic president’s statement came after Carnahan’s family announced Tuesday evening that she had died after a brief illness at the age of 90. He shared support for her family and memories of her time in the U.S. Senate.

“Whether working to pass school bonds in their hometown of Rolla, or fighting for daycare for working families as Missouri’s First Lady, she was sharp, kind, and committed to consensus,” Biden said. “She revered history and took the honor of the job seriously, personally raising funds to restore the governor’s mansion as the people’s house.”

Biden was in the Senate at the same time as Carnahan, who served two years from Jan. 3, 2001 to Nov. 25, 2002, where she championed issues such as education, children, seniors and working families.

Carnahan, a Democrat, was appointed to the Senate after her husband, Gov. Mel Carnahan, posthumously won election to the Senate after he was killed in a plane crash 22 days before the 2000 election.

Biden, whose first wife Neilia and one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash in 1972, said he remembered when Carnahan arrived in Washington after losing her husband and her son, Randy who was also killed in the plane crash.

“I didn’t know her then, but I knew her loss,” Biden said. “When I met her, moments after she’d been sworn in to Mel’s seat in the Senate, I told her what other senators had told me when I’d first arrived, having just lost my own wife and daughter – ‘lose yourself in the work.’

But Carnahan found herself in the work, and “I saw her turn her pain into tremendous purpose,” Biden said.

“When Mel was killed, Jean embraced a new motto – ‘don’t let the fire go out,’” he said, “She dedicated her life to stoking the flames. And thanks to her quiet courage and lifetime of service, they will keep burning bright.”

Biden said he was grateful for Carnahan’s support and for the support of her children, including Robin Carnahan, a former Missouri secretary of state who now serves as administrator of General Services in Biden’s administration.

“Our love is with them today; with her grandchildren; and with the people of Missouri whom she so honorably served in so many ways for so long,” he said.

The Carnahan family name is well-known and connected within Missouri politics. Numerous political figures across Missouri have shared support for her family and remembrances after news of the death, including Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat, and Sen. Eric Schmitt, a Missouri Republican.