Sonia Sloan, prominent Delaware Democratic activist and friend to Biden, has died at 91

Meredith Newman
The News Journal

Sonia Schorr Sloan — a prominent Democratic activist in Delaware who worked on every one of Joe Biden's campaigns — has died at age 91.

The former vice president, who referred to Sloan as "Sonny," released a statement about her death. Sloan was active in Delaware politics for decades and was most recently honored at the First State Democratic Dinner in March.

Biden spoke to Sloan on the telephone on Saturday morning, just before she died, according to a source familiar with the conversation. 

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"Sonny was called a firecracker, a hummingbird, the kind of person you never say no to," Biden said in his statement. "It was one of the greatest gifts of my life to have had her by my side – since the very beginning when I was just a kid running for the Senate at 29, and throughout the decades that followed.

"She’d call up and always, always, give it to me straight. Sonny taught us what it means to be a Democrat, to be a Delawarean, to be an American, and to be devoted to something bigger than yourself."

Sloan was a woman of several firsts: She was the first woman to receive a degree from Thomas Jefferson University, where she earned her master's in microbiology, according to the university's website. She was also the first woman on the research staff at DuPont in the 1950s.

But she left that work behind to become a Democratic advocate. She protested for the end of the Vietnam War and became engrossed in Delaware politics. She served as Planned Parenthood of Delaware's board president and was a founding member of the Delaware chapter of the ACLU.

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She helped raise more than $140 million for Delaware nonprofits, Biden said in his statement. Sloan was active in all of Biden's campaigns, including his first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1972. 

 “It’s hard to imagine that anyone else has contributed as much to improving the lives of Delawareans," former Gov. Jack Markell wrote in an email.

"I literally can’t imagine life without her.”

Delaware Democratic Party Chairman Erik Raser-Schramm called Sloan a "transformational icon the likes of which we may never see again."

"She cared about progress, to be sure, but she also cared about people, and always took the time to forge real connections with everyone who crossed her path," he said in a statement.

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Paul Calistro, director of the West End Neighborhood House, described Sloan as a "powerhouse who fought for social justice her entire life."

"She was a great friend," he wrote in an email. "But her greatest trait was her love of her family and especially her life long partner Gil. Delaware and I will miss this amazing woman."

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Democratic Gov. John Carney called Sloan a "mainstay of Delaware Democratic politics" who "spent a lifetime on the front lines in the fight for justice and equality."

"Her passing leaves a huge void," Carney said in a statement. "She was one of the ‘wise women’ of the Party, and I was one of dozens of would-be officeholders to seek her advice. While Joe was undoubtedly her favorite son, she found satisfaction and happiness in the success of all of us."

Although she was a petite woman, she was certainly not meek. This August, she co-authored an op-ed for Delaware Online/The News Journal about President Donald Trump. 

"One of Sonny's old friends once said that when you hugged her, it felt like you were hugging a sparrow; but inside, you knew that she was eight feet tall," Biden said. "To us, Sonny will always be that giant."

Sloan and her family were close with the Bidens. She helped Ashley Biden find a rabbi for her wedding and attended Beau Biden's funeral. In her home, she had photos of her and Joe Biden throughout and had kept letters from him over the years. The two talked on the phone regularly. 

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Sonia Sloan appears with Joe Biden in a photograph from earlier years in his political career.

Before he announced his latest bid for the presidency, Sloan had publicly urged Biden to run for president. 

"I've helped with every campaign he's ever run and I've got one campaign left in me," she told Delaware Online/The News Journal this spring. 

Sloan leaves behind her husband, Gil, and their two sons, five granddaughters and five great-grandchildren.

Esteban Parra contributed reporting to this article. 

Contact Meredith Newman at (302) 324-2386 or and on Twitter @MereNewman.