CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- President Barack Obama and thousands of ordinary West Virginians honored the late Robert C. Byrd at a memorial service in the late senator's home state capital Friday.
With the president, Vice President Joe Biden and other dignitaries on hand, pallbearers carried the late senator's casket down the red-carpeted steps of the Capitol to its main courtyard for the service honoring Byrd, who died Monday at the age of 92.
"I'll remember him when I came to know him," Obama told the gathering, "his white hair flowing like a mane, his gate steady with a cane, determined to make the most of every last breath. The distinguished gentleman from West Virginia could be found at his desk to the very end and doing the people's business."
Recalling Byrd's ability to bring billions of dollars to West Virginia, Clinton said he told the senator: "If you pave every single inch of West Virginia, it's going to be much harder to mine coal." Byrd responded that "the constitution does not prohibit humble servants from delivering whatever they can to their constituents."
Kennedy called herself "humbled" to speak for her late husband. She recalled Byrst Virginia Senate before being elected to Congress in 1953.
He spent nearly six decades in Congress, first in the House of Representatives and then his final 51 years in the Senate. As a senator, he developed a reputation as a master of the chamber's rules and an oft-feared advocate for West Virginia.
In his home state, Byrd cemented larger-than-life status for directing billions of dollars to projects ranging from the courthouses to the FBI's national repository for computerized fingerprint records. Many bear his name, including the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope.
Byrd evolved over the decades, from a segregationist opposed to civil rights legislation, to a liberal hero for his opposition to the Iraq war and a supporter of the rights of gays to serve in the military. And he proudly became a free-spender as chairman of the Appropriations Committee. It took him just two years to reach his goal of bringing more than $1 billion in federal funds back to West Virginia. The money went to build highways, bridges, buildings and other facilities.
Byrd was born Nov. 20, 1917 in North Wilkesboro, N.C., as Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. His mother died before his first birthday and his father sent him to live with aunt and uncle Vlurma and Titus Byrd. They renamed him and moved to Stotesbury, W.Va.
After the ceremony, Byrd's body will be flown back to Virginia, where he will be buried on Tuesday.