Reading This Story About Joe Biden's Gift From a Grieving 6-Year-Old Will Move You to Tears

Throughout Democratic nominee Joe Biden's campaign, compassion and empathy have always been key parts of his narrative. On Wednesday evening, Alan Townsend, the Dean and Franke Professor of Forestry & Conservation at the University of Montana, recalled a time when he met Biden, and experienced firsthand the extent of his compassion.

Townsend said that despite his busy schedule as Vice President and not personally knowing who the professor was, Biden took the time to speak with him about his loss.

No matter what happens, it seems right tonight to share a story about @JoeBiden It was just a brief moment in his life, but it will stay with me always. I’ve told parts of it to some, but all of it to only a very few. (1/many)

— Alan Townsend (@alan_townsend) November 5, 2020

"No matter what happens, it seems right tonight to share a story about @JoeBiden," Townsend began the thread, referring to the pending election results. "It was just a brief moment in his life, but it will stay with me always. I've told parts of it to some, but all of it to only a very few."

Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Chase Center July 14, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Townsend noted that Biden lost his son, Beau, after a battle with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. The professor said he lost his wife to the same cancer. Townsend added that his daughter was battling a brain tumor at the time as well.

"I was working @DukeEnvironment [Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment] at the time (a wonderful place), and not long after Diana died, @joebiden came to visit @DukeU. He was there to listen to and learn from some of the extraordinary cancer docs and researchers at the university. To ask what he could do to help."

"The @DukeU provost (an exceptional cancer researcher herself) was kind enough to invite me to join a group that would have a chance to meet the then Vice President." Townsend said he told his daughter about the meeting the day before it happened.

"She asked why Vice President Biden was coming to Duke and I told her that he wanted to help people with cancer," he recalled, "And I told her that he had lost someone very close to him to the same tumor which took her mom."

Townsend noted that his daughter was only six years old at the time. "She paused, and then as his her style, wanted to know much more. Eventually she learned Joe Biden had a granddaughter not much older than her. Another little girl who had lost a parent to cancer.

"She was quiet for a time and then said she wanted to write a letter to the Vice President and have it go along with a gift for his granddaughter. I asked what gift. 'My extra bracelet' she answered."

Townsend explained that the bracelet his daughter, Neva, was referring to was one of four custom-made bracelets with the outline of the mountain for which Neva was named. Diana was buried with one of the bracelets, Townsend wore one, Neva wore one, and the fourth was for when she got older.

There were four such bracelets in the world. Each was identical and showed an outline of the mountain that gave my daughter her name. Each was made just days before Diana died. I wear one, my daughter wears one, Diana the other in her place of rest.

— Alan Townsend (@alan_townsend) November 5, 2020

"But she said: 'I want to give it to the Vice President to give to his granddaughter so maybe she won't feel quite as sad.' Needless to say I'm pretty much trying not to completely lose it by now."

Neva wrote the letter and placed the extra bracelet in a tiny box.

"The next day, I lined up with a few dozen others to meet Vice President Biden. Like most such events, he was on a tight schedule and none of us were supposed to linger," Townsend continued. "So when my turn came, I simply told him thanks for what he was doing, that I'd lost someone special and so appreciated his efforts. Then I began to move aside. But he stopped me.

"He reached out, grabbed my shoulder and asked 'who did you lose?' I told him quickly of Diana, and of our daughter too, and of how she had written him a letter and sent a present for his granddaughter."

"He stood silently for a few seconds, ignoring his staff who were clearly anxious for him to move to the next person. Then he shook his head, and his eyes filled just a little, and he simply said 'it's just not right.' I nodded and tried to leave again. He still wouldn't let me."

Townsend said he and Biden spoke a bit more, and the vice president asked if Neva was there. "He seemed disappointed she was not," Townsend noted. "He asked if I had her letter. I told him the letter & gift were with his staff. He asked if I could tell him what the gift was. So I did.

"Again he just stood for quite some time and held my eyes. What I saw was someone still wracked by his own grief & yet remarkably able to feel, I mean really feel, that of others. A man who truly gave a damn about a person he'd never met. Right down into his bones."

Townsend concluded: "That is what we should seek in a leader, and what we should give back in return. May we somehow, someway find enough of us turning onto that path, not just tonight, not just next week, but through every year each one of us still gets."