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HUNDREDS PAY TRIBUTE TO BYRD

The West Virginia senator was praised for his high level of support for his state.

New York Times

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Hundreds of West Virginians, two U.S. presidents and dozens of family members and friends gathered Friday to pay tribute to Robert C. Byrd, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history.

The gold-trimmed dome of the Capitol gleamed and the rolling hills of West Virginia framed the scene as President Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and several of Byrd's colleagues in Congress spoke of his humble roots, voracious appetite for knowledge, inspiring oratory and fierce devotion to his home state.

"His heart belonged to you," Obama told the crowd of West Virginians. "Making life better here was his only agenda. Giving you hope, he said, was his greatest achievement."

Some of those who remembered Byrd, who died Monday at the age of 92, referred to how his perspective changed over time. Most notably he came to regret his early membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

"Like the Constitution he tucked in his pocket, like our nation itself, Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality, and that is the capacity to change, the capacity to learn, the capacity to listen, the capacity to be made more perfect," Obama said.

Gov. Joe Manchin III reminded the audience that more than 50 West Virginia projects bear the name of either the senator or his late wife, Erma.

Once, Clinton said, he joked to the senator about the sheer amount of federal dollars he had managed to rain on West Virginia.

"And he smiled and he said, 'The Constitution does not prohibit humble servants from delivering whatever they can to their constituents,'" Clinton recalled.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; W. Va. Sen. John D. Rockefeller III; and the Senate majority and minority leaders, Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, also spoke at the ceremony. Victoria Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, described the two senators' long friendship despite their vastly different backgrounds, and she noted Byrd's decisive vote for health care legislation last year.

Bluegrass music wafted over the crowd before the service began, courtesy of a small band set up on the Capitol steps. And on July 27, the Virginia label County Records plans to issue a CD of an album Byrd made in 1978 with members of the Country Gentlemen called U.S. Senator Robert Byrd: Mountain Fiddler.

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