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Wife of W.Va. Sen. Byrd Dead at 88

Erma Ora James Byrd, the wife of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, has died after battling an illness for five years. She was 88.

Erma Byrd, who met her husband of nearly 69 years when they were in grade school, died Saturday at the couple's home in McLean, Va., according to Byrd's spokesman, Tom Gavin. He would not say what the illness was.

The senator and members of their family were with her when she died.

"Erma and I are complete and whole, a total that is more than the sum of its parts," Byrd said of his wife on their 65th wedding anniversary in 2002. "In my life, Erma Ora Byrd is the diamond. She is a priceless treasure, a multifaceted woman of great insight and wisdom, of quiet humor and common sense."

The daughter of a coal miner, Erma Byrd met her future husband while both attended Mark Twain Grade School. They married when they were 19.

She met presidents and senators, kings, queens, and other celebrities, but she never sought the limelight and did not give her first interview until 1982 — 30 years after her husband was first elected to the Congress.

She told Charleston Daily Mail in that interview, "I leave the politics to Robert. The people elected him, not me."

"With the passing of Erma Byrd, West Virginia has lost a true lady. Sen. Byrd and Ermas love story was one for the ages — a true testament to the power of faith and commitment," Gov. Joe Manchin said in a statement.

Besides her husband, survivors include two daughters, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.