Sen. Robert C. Byrd Dies: Appalachia’s Longest-Serving Representative

Appalachia has lost one of its longest-serving representatives with the passing of Senator Robert C. Byrd. Reflections on his legacy and contributions to the State of West Virginia and the larger Appalachian region are contained in various articles throughout the media, as well as in the words of his fellow colleagues.

Coverage of Senator Byrd’s death:

West Virginia Blue

The Charleston Gazette

I Love Mountains

The New York Times

The Washington Post

Robert Byrd dies: Reaction in Washington

By Matt DeLong, Washington Post

With news of the death of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) early Monday, Byrd's friends and colleagues in Washington are paying their respects to the longest-serving member in the history of the Senate. Here is a sampling..

Byrd's fellow West Virginia Democrat, Sen. Jay Rockefeller:

It has been my greatest privilege to serve with Robert C. Byrd in the United States Senate. I looked up to him, I fought next to him, and I am deeply saddened that he is gone. He leaves a void that simply can never be filled. But I am lifted by the knowledge of his deep and abiding faith in God, I have joy in the thought of him reunited with his dear Erma, and I am proud knowing that his moving life story and legacy of service and love for West Virginia will live on.

Senator Byrd came from humble beginnings in the southern coalfields, was raised by hard-working West Virginians, and triumphantly rose to the heights of power in America. But he never forgot where he came from nor who he represented, and he never abused that power for his own gain.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

Robert Byrd's was one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. From his graduation as valedictorian of his high school class at the age of 16 to his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee until the age of 91, he mastered everything he touched with great thoughtfulness and skill. Throughout more than half a century of service in this body, and six more in the House, Senator Byrd never stopped fighting for the people of West Virginia and for Democratic principles. My thoughts, and those of the entire United States Senate, are with the Byrd family.

Robert Byrd was a Member of this nation's Congress for more than a quarter of the time it has existed, and longer than a quarter of today's sitting Senators and the President of the United States have been alive. The nine times the people of his state sent him to the Senate and the more than 18,500 votes he cast in its chamber will never be matched. His political career spanned a dozen presidencies and countless American advances and achievements. And throughout one of the longest political careers in history, no one ever defeated Robert Byrd in a single election.

The people of West Virginia have lost a dedicated public servant, and America has lost a great defender of its most precious traditions. He was the foremost guardian of the Senate's complex rules, procedures and customs, and as leader of both the majority and the minority caucuses in the Senate he knew better than most that legislation is the art of compromise.

By virtue of his endurance, Robert Byrd knew and worked with many of the greats of the United States Senate. Because of his enduring virtue, he will be remembered as one of them. Senator Byrd dedicated every single day of his Senate service to strengthening the institution, state and republic that he loved so dearly. There will never be another like him.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):

Sen. Byrd combined a devotion to the U.S. Constitution with a deep learning of history to defend the interests of his state and the traditions of the Senate. We will remember him for his fighter's spirit, his abiding faith, and for the many times he recalled the Senate to its purposes. Generations of Americans will read the masterful history of the Senate he leaves behind, and they will also read about the remarkable life of Robert Carlyle Byrd.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.):

Day after day, Senator Byrd held forth on the floor of the Senate not just on the issues of the moment, but by providing an institutional and historical context for our deliberations. He was not just the President pro tempore of the Senate, he was also the Guardian of the Senate and our connection with the 'mystic cords of memory.' His distinctive voice elevated our contemporary debates and tied our work to the history of humankind. His knowledge of the Bible and of the classics was extraordinary and moving.

Former President Jimmy Carter:

Sen. Robert Byrd and his wife Erma were our personal friends, and 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. He was a giant among legislators, and was courageous in espousing controversial issues.

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.):

I served with him for 36 years. We sat in the same row. He was a senator's senator. He was a keeper of our traditions, a keeper of the rules, and the kind of senator who always kept his word. … I will miss Bob Byrd.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.):

He was a great patriot. He loved the Senate, no doubt about it. I remembered how he railed against textbooks one time. He said they contained 'touch, feely twallow.'

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.):

He was a defender of the Constitution, a champion of the Senate. He was West Virginia'a greatest ally, her faithful son, a source of tremendous pride, and our Big Daddy. He was a mentor, a teacher, a leader, a constant source of inspiration.

Gov. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.):

Sen. Byrd was a fearless fighter for the Constitution, his beloved state and its great people. He made a significant mark as a member of Congress in both our state's and the nation's history. His accomplishments and contributions will define history for eternity.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.):

Senator Byrd was the keeper of the flame here in the Senate. He believed in the Senate as an institution. He believed in the constitutional role of the Senate not to be a rubber stamp for the president and he believed fiercely in his state and his constituents there.

Kristin Tracz

About Kristin Tracz

Kristin Tracz served MACED’s Research and Policy team from 2009-2012 working on clean energy policy, energy efficiency programs and the Appalachian Transition Initiative. She joined MACED after finishing her Master of Environmental Management degree at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She now lives and works in Washington, DC.