A Look Back at Covering Sen. Robert Byrd: Facts and Remembrances

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-WV died early Monday morning after a legendary career in Washington, here are some facts and remembrances from covering the 92-year old senator for years on Capitol Hill.


*Nov. 8, 2009 -- Byrd became the longest serving member in Congress in history.

*June 12, 2006 -- Byrd became the longest serving senator in history.

*Nov. 2006 -- Byrd was elected to his 9TH FULL TERM. (So - Byrd was closing in on his 58th year in the Congress).


*Byrd was President pro tempore, which is the highest ranking member of the Senate & the 2nd highest ranking member of Congress after the Speaker.

*That made Byrd technically the 3rd person in the line of succession to the President, but Democratic sources quietly said on background that Byrd would sign those powers away in the event of an opening.

*In mid-2008, Democratic leaders pushed Byrd from his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, due to his failing health and frequent absences from work.

*On Dec. 24, 2009, an emotional Byrd yelled to the chair during the critical cloture vote on health care, "Mr. President, this is for my friend, Ted Kennedy! AYE!"

*Supported BOTH Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts & Justice Samuel Alito.

*Byrd was a member of the "Gang of 14" - which averted a judicial crisis in the Senate.

*Sole Democrat to vote for the CENSURE of President Bill Clinton -- BUT voted against impeachment.

>>Byrd was elected to more positions by colleagues than any other senator in Senate history:

*Democratic leader: 1977-80 (Majority); 1981-86 (Minority); 1987-88 (Majority)

*Democratic Whip: 1971-77

*Secretary, Democratic conference: 1967-71

*There was perhaps no greater opponent of President George W. Bush than Byrd. He wrote: Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Dangerous Presidency. The senator gave numerous speeches on the Senate floor in opposition to the war in Iraq; to signing statements; to anything the senator perceived as an infringement on Congresional powers.

*1964 --- Byrd conducted one of the longest true filibusters in Senate history -- against civil rights legislation.

*1958 -- first elected to Senate.

*1952 --- started in Congress when elected to the House.

*Served in the W.VA House and Senate.

*Joined the KKK at age 24 -- liked that it was anti-Communist. It's a membership for which Byrd has repeatedly apologized.

*Attended GWU Law School & graduated w/ his law degree from American University.

*In 2007 to AP, Byrd issued the following statement: "It isn't a news flash that I'm getting older or that I walk with canes...Age really is not the issue it may appear to be. When it comes to political office, what really matters are things like drive, determination and the desire to serve. The ability to look to the future with an eye toward the possibilities and how to make them reality is much more important than a number that denotes one's years on this earth."

*Also to AP, though it's unclear where it falls in this above statement: "I'm told that 90 is the new 80...I am proud of my white mane, but I still long for the black hair of my youth."

*According to Cumberland Times-News, 6/26/10: Sen. Robert C. Byrd's name appears the most on bridges and highways among individuals - at least eight times. They include the Robert C. Byrd Expressway and Robert C. Byrd Bridge in Ohio County; Robert C. Byrd Highway (Corridor H); Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (also Corridor H); Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (Corridor G/U.S. 119); Robert C. Byrd Bridge in Huntington; Robert C. Byrd Interchange at Birch River; Robert C. Byrd Appalachian Highway System (Corridor L/I-77).


*Hospitalized three times in 2009 --- left him frail, weak, and wheelchair-bound. Nevertheless, he voted fairly regularly -- wheeled in by a staffer into the chamber.

*Feb. 2008 -- Byrd fell at his home & was taken to the hospital after being at work for a time; the Senate doctor sent him to the hospital. No broken bones. Just days later, Byrd came down with a urinary tract infection & was rushed to the hospital; he then had a reaction to the antibiotics. AFTER ALL THAT -- he contracted a staph infection - and would be hospitalized for a time to deal with that. Byrd would have to undergo physical therapy to recuperate.  The staph infection would return in 2009.
*Jan. 20, 2009 -- Byrd was at the same table with Sen. Ted Kennedy when the late senator had a seizure. Byrd was reportedly VERY emotional, but his staff would later say he was fine. Byrd gave an emotional tribute to his friend when Kennedy died. I remember him yelling, "Ted! Ted!" while crying.

*Perhaps no greater milestone in his life came when in March 2006 his childhood sweetheart, Erma Ora Byrd(born Erma Ora James), died (they met in high school). Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.VA has a nursing facility named for Erma. Also at the school, a science center is named for the senator, a master at bringing home the bacon to his state.

*Avid fiddle player. He has performed at the Kennedy Center, Grand Ole Opry, and HEE HAW! He has recorded a number of records/CD's.

*He has appeared in a number of movies, including Gods & Generals, with former Sen. George Allen.

*West Virginia's legislature was so grateful to Byrd they named him "West Virginian of the 20th century."

*Born Cornelius Calvin Sale in NC -- but his mom died of pneumonia when he was one year old. Her children were divided among relatives; the baby was raised by Titus and Vlurma Byrd, who changed the baby's name and raised him in coal country in southern West Virginia.

*Another major milestone -- the passing of his beloved dog, Billy Byrd. He kept a picture of the dog on his mantle in his office. Byrd always talked about his dog, a Maltese, and when Billy Byrd died in 2002, Byrd said, "I lost one of my best friends today." Byrd, a major dog lover, soon got another pooch, a Shih Tzu this time -- naming it Trouble.

*An avid dog lover, Byrd was enraged by the revelations of a brutal dog-fighting ring run by Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick. In a July 19, 2007 speech, Byrd condemned Vick and even called for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of such brutality to animals, calling the guilty parties "sadistic."

*And he said: "I am confident that the hottest places in Hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt!

*Byrd is referred to as the "historian of the Senate," having written a massive series


*Byrd loved members of the 4th estate. He would often come to the print gallery for pen & pad sessions with us -- holding court in his formal 3-piece suits. Byrd was quite the dresser! He would always greet you with a big smile and ask how you're doing.

*He would often sing when coming into work. Byrd truly loved the Senate. On a number of occasions, even in his wheelchair, I'd hear him sing, "Oh when the saints..."

*Byrd was a staunch defender of all-things-coal. He vehemently opposed any infringement on the industry that has been the lifeline of his tiny state -- strongly opposing any cap & trade effort.