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R.I.P. Byrd

By Staff | Jun 30, 2010

Reaction was swift Monday to the news of Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s passing.

Byrd, 92, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, died 3 a.m. Monday at Inova Hospital in Fairfax, Va.

President Barack Obama said America has lost “a voice of principle and reason with the passing of Robert C. Byrd.”

“Sen. Byrd’s story was uniquely American. He was born into wrenching poverty, but educated himself to become an authoritative scholar, respected leader, and unparalleled champion of our Constitution,” the president said. “He scaled the summit of power, but his mind never strayed from the people of his beloved West Virginia. He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time.

The senior senator made his mark upon history, Gov. Joe Manchin said.

“He made a significant mark as a member of Congress in both our state’s and nation’s history. His accomplishments and contributions will define history for eternity,” Manchin said. “His love for West Virginia, his knowledge of the Constitution and his commitment to the Senate will never be matched.”

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., spoke from the floor of the Senate about Byrd’s humble beginnings in the coalfields of West Virginia.

“To me, he was a reliable friend, a walking example of the kind of America I believe in, and a living testament to the values that made West Virginia my own forever home. It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate,” Rockefeller said. “I looked up to him, I fought next to him and I am deeply saddened that he is gone.”

Byrd was West Virginia’s greatest ally, a defender of the Constitution, a champion of the Senate, “and our Big Daddy,” Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said.

“And he was my friend,” he said.

Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., said Byrd’s passing marks the end of an era.

“There are few who remember a West Virginia without Robert C. Byrd, and there are none who expect to see his like again,” Mollohan said. “It was my tremendous good fortune to know Senator Byrd all of my life and to work closely with him during my 28 years in Congress. But all of us were witness to his greatness, and all of us will feel his loss.”

Byrd and his wife Erma were personal friends, former President Jimmy Carter said.

“He was my closest and most valuable adviser while I served as president. I respected him and attempted in every way to remain in his good graces,” Carter said. “He was a giant among legislators, and was courageous in espousing controversial issues.”

The Most Rev. Michael J. Bransfield, bishop of Wheeling-Charleston, called upon residents to reflect on Byrd’s life and the future he helped shape.

“Sen. Byrd led the transformation of West Virginia’s highways, and technology, health care, education and criminal justice systems, which will advance the quality of life in our beloved state for generations to come,” he said.

Larry Puccio, the new chairman of the state Democratic Party, called it a sad day and a devastating loss for West Virginia and the nation,.

“Sen. Byrd is one of the main reasons West Virginia is known as Almost Heaven,” Puccio said.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the Senate has lost an icon and West Virginia lost a beloved son “woven into the very fabric of our state.”

“Sen. Byrd’s mastery of the Senate will be remembered for the ages, but those who knew him best realize his legacy will be one of love for the West Virginians he served for nearly 57 years,” Capito said. “Whether he is remembered as the young man who played the fiddle or the elder statesman that carried a copy of the Constitution in the pocket next to his heart, Robert Byrd touched the lives of countless West Virginians. His service to West Virginia and dedication to our nation’s democracy set an example to which generations can aspire.”

Rick Thompson, speaker of the West Virginia House of Delegates, called Byrd’s death “an unspeakable loss, first and foremost to West Virginia, but also to Congress and the country as a whole.”

“He is the most important public servant in West Virginia’s history our state’s biggest advocate and protector:,” Thompson said. “This is a very sad day for all West Virginians. My heart goes out to his family, and I hope there is some peace in knowing that he is now with his beloved Erma.”

Byrd represented West Virginia with dignity and grace, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said.

“The fact that he is the longest serving Senator in the history of our great nation shows that the people of this state loved him and respected him, and always appreciated what he was able to accomplish in Washington,” she said.

Byrd was an unrivaled legislator who never forgot his roots in the Mountain State, said David McKinley, Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives 1st District.

“Byrd has made his mark in history as a champion in the Senate for half a century,” McKinly said. “His legacy will thrive.”

Sen. Mike Oliverio, a candidate for the House of representatives 1st District, last year created a website, www.thankyousenatorbyrd.com, while Byrd was in the hospital on his birthday.

“Sen. Byrd has inspired me, as he has inspired thousands of others,” Oliverio said. “His selflessness is no doubt what our founding fathers had in mind with the idea of civilian servants.”

Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Byrd will be missed in the hearts and homes across America.

“He was first and foremost the advocate of those most in need, fighting for educational programs and legislation that would help renew opportunity in areas of the country where opportunities were often scarce,” Kaine said.

West Virginia Auditor Glen Gainer said “Our nation knows Sen. Byrd carried the Constitution in his pocket, but we know he carried West Virginia on his shoulders.”

Treasurer John Perdue cited the billions of dollars Byrd has been able to get for West Virginia.

“The nation will remember my dear friend as one of the monumental leaders of our generation,” Perdue said.

Contact Jess at letters@graffitiwv.com