Sen. Byrd Dies Monday
West Virginians are mourning the loss of a powerful friend and tireless worker with Monday’s death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd.
Byrd, 92, was known for his passion and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and the rules of the U.S. Senate and also of his deep love for his late wife, Erma Ora Byrd. He died peacefully in his sleep at about 3 a.m. Monday at a Fairfax, Va., hospital.
The Democrat senator’s health had been frail in recent years and he spent several months of 2009 hospitalized for an infection.
Byrd’s desk in the Senate chamber was draped in black, in recognition both of his longevity-he served longer and cast more votes than any senator in history-and the tenacity in which he defended the traditions and prerogatives of the Senate.
President Barack Obama said the Senate “has lost a venerable institution, and America has lost a voice of principle and reason.”
“He held the deepest respect of members of both parties, and he was generous with his time and advice, something I appreciated greatly as a young senator,” Obama said in a statement. Flags at the White House and the Capitol flew at half-staff Monday.
Byrd was first elected to the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946 and he served two terms there before moving on to the state Senate in 1950. In 1952, Byrd was elected to the first of three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958 and he would serve there for the next 52 years.
On June 12, 2006, Byrd became the longest-serving member ever in the U.S. Senate-serving 47 years, five months, and nine days. Then, on Nov. 18, 2009, Byrd became the longest-serving member ever in Congress when he surpassed the mark of 20,775 days at the U.S. Capitol.
Byrd was elected Senate majority leader in 1976 and held the post until Democrats lost control of the Senate four years later. Byrd spent nearly all of his 52 years in the Senate as a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee, rising to serve as both chairman and ranking Democrat.
In late 2008, Byrd stepped down as chairman, but continued to remain an influential member of the committee. He held the position of president pro tempore in the Senate, a position that placed him third in line to the U.S. presidency. Byrd was elected to a ninth term in the Senate in 2006, and his current term is to expire in January 2013.
Byrd’s office reports that during his career, Byrd cast more than 18,555 roll call votes-more votes than any other Senator in American history.
While doing so, he also compiled an amazing 98 percent attendance record in the Senate.