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How Valerie Biden Owens detoured her career at 50, then helped catapult her brother to the White House

Owens, 75, is on Forbes and Know Your Value’s newly-released “Impact List,” which highlights women over 50 who are making a difference in the non-profit, law, policy and education space.
Valerie Biden Owens, Valerie  political strategist, campaign manager and former educator.
Valerie Biden Owens, Valerie political strategist, campaign manager and former educator.Rebecca Miller for Forbes

Throughout Joe Biden’s political career, Valerie Biden Owens has always worked alongside her brother as a campaign manager. But around age 50, she decided to venture out on her own.

“I went at the urging of my husband and kids, who said ‘mom, you’re always telling us to reach and risk. Go for it. Do something that’s interesting to you,’” Owens, 75, told Mika Brzezinski in an interview that aired on Wednesday's "Morning Joe." “I started to take some side journeys and adventures on my own.”

Owens, is on Forbes and Know Your Value’s newly-released “Impact List,” which highlights women over 50 who are making a difference in the non-profit, law, policy and education space. She recounted how she made a departure from the so-called “family business” of her brother’s politics. She went on to work for a political media consultant and joined Women's Campaign International, where she helped train women in emerging democracies about getting a seat at the political table.

She ultimately returned to manage her brother’s campaigns, including his successful 1972 Senate run, unsuccessful presidential attempts in 1988 and 2008, and eventually his election to the White House in 2020.

Then-presidential candidate Joe Biden and sister Valerie Biden Owen on March 3, 2020 in Los Angeles.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

Owens encouraged young people to branch out and step out of their comfort zones in order to enrich their lives. She is currently writing a book that will be released next spring called “Growing Up Biden.”

“Serendipity plays such a greater role in our lives than we would ever figure,” said Owens. “Be focused, educate yourself, but be open...A singular focus is fine, but it also means you’ve got blinders on. If you can study hard, you can be whatever you want to be ... But take a moment to look around and say ‘oh what about that?’”

Owens was born and raised in Delaware to a family of three brothers. She and Joe, the oldest, were always best friends, she said, and they still complete each other’s sentences.

Owens studied at University of Delaware and eventually married attorney John T. Owens, with whom she has three children. She worked on her brother’s campaigns as he rose the ranks from county councilman to senator and beyond.

“He is first and foremost my brother, and that will never change,” she said. “He’s also president which is a tremendous honor, and I did walk with him every step of the way.”

Early in her career, Owens was the only female campaign manager she knew. With no women role models to look up to, she encouraged women to take care of one another.

“Women traditionally have not been acclaimed for helping each other out,” Owens said. “There was only one spot in my generation, so there wasn’t a lot of ‘come here, let me tell you what it’s like.’ Now, it’s no sweat for us to say ‘come along.’”

A devoted Catholic, Owens has relied on her faith to get her through the hardest parts of her job. Her faith was tested, however when she had to endure one of the worst tragedies in her life: the 2015 death of her nephew Beau Biden, 45, who suffered from brain cancer. Though he was Joe’s son, Owens said he was something like a “first-born” to her.

“I pray for strength, never the outcome. I pray for the strength to deal with whatever it is. But in that moment, I wanted to take a rock and throw it through a stained-glass window,” Owen recounted. “But because I'm over 50, I’ve learned so much, and I’ve learned that just as much as anger and rage and bitterness can come from hardships, so too can come goodness and kindness and compassion. It takes a little bit longer. But if you hold on, you can come out of it. You’re never the same. but hopefully you’ll be a better person.”

She advised young women to expect detours in life, but never to let go of their dreams.

Things don’t always work out the way you want. Life has a way of interrupting. But, that doesn’t mean you quit or give up,” she said.