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A Nation Gathers To Remember Byrd

By Staff | Jul 7, 2010

Pictured above from left Governor Joe Manchin III, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and former President Bill Clinton uniformly pay their respects as Sen. Robert C. Byrd is recessed from the Capitol steps. (Photos by Miranda Stokes)

This past weekend our country celebrated its 234th birthday. I’ll be honest, this year the Fourth of July didn’t hold a Roman candle to the second of July where I had the immense privilege to not only attend, but actually be in the press pool for Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s Memorial Service on the Capitol steps in Charleston.

As strange as it may sound, to me there was no better way to celebrate our independence than to see so many come together to celebrate the life of a man who, as Sen. Ted Kennedy once said, “personifies what our Founding Fathers were thinking about when they were thinking about a United States Senate.” Fitting for the holiday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) noted at Byrd’s memorial, “For a quarter of the time our nation has existed, Senator Byrd has been there.”

Byrd lived his long life for the state of West Virginia. As the longest serving member of Congress, Byrd worked tirelessly to bring federal funds for the state to bolster education, improve health care, bring jobs, and the list goes on. He was unyielding as a leader, upholding the US Constitution to the fullest and making every decision with the utmost conviction. “His heart belonged to you,” President Obama said. “Making life better here was his only agenda.”

Governor Manchin described the Senator in his own words as “the Architect of Appalachia.” With that sentiment in mind I continued to honor the best of West Virginia by going to the Mountain State Art & Craft Fair in Ripley. Hundreds of artisans gathered to display and demonstrate their gifted trades they’ve learned from their relatives. The people I met there reminded me of what U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) had said just hours earlier about how Byrd never stopped learning or working. These people seemed to live by that very same philosophy; their hands rough from laborious work in their crafted fields, and with both wisdom for their own work and the inspiration to learn from each other.

At the service Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, “He made me and so many of us proud to be West Virginians.” I’ve always been proud of my home state, but between the memorial service and the fair, I felt downright boastful about my state and its people, leaders, and culture. I wondered if this was the sort of pride Byrd felt for us every day.

At the service’s close, Byrd was led from the Capitol with “Country Roads,” a favorite of Byrd’s. To hear hundreds of people singing the unofficial state anthem was a memorable experience all in its own. I’m most sure we could be heard to Robert C. Byrd’s home among the heavens.

To view more photos I captured at Sen. Byrd’s memorial service, visit the CU gallery at cu.wetzelchronicle.com/galleries/index.php?id=312954.