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Byrd honored on second anniversary of death

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin hosted a tribute to the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., inside the West Virginia Capitol rotunda on Thursday afternoon, in the shadow of Byrd's statue.

It was the second anniversary of the passing of Byrd, who served in the U.S. Congress longer than anyone else in American history.

"Sen. Byrd's legacy of compassion, loyalty and integrity," Tomblin said, "will forever be recalled by those who had the privilege of being his friend.

"If you were his constituent, you had a friend in Robert C. Byrd. He is the most historic West Virginian who dedicated his life to helping others through his years of public service.

"On this day, we remember the man who championed for great causes and helped West Virginia thrive," Tomblin said.

Several people who attended the ceremony to honor Byrd mentioned the significance of Thursday morning's 5-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court's upholding the Affordable Care Act legislation.

Byrd, who was quite sick at the time, traveled from his home during a raging snowstorm to cast his vote in the Senate for the health-care legislation, which passed on Christmas Eve 2009, by a 60-39 vote.

Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said, "I think it is appropriate the health-care law was upheld today. When the Senate held that vote on Christmas Eve, he was really ill.

"'I am voting for this for my good friend Ted Kennedy,' Sen. Byrd told the Senate," Foster said.

Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said, "I know Robert Byrd and Ted Kennedy are dancing together in heaven, as the music plays, regarding today's decision on the Affordable Care Act."

Before and after the ceremony honoring Byrd in the Capitol, fiddler Joe Dobbs and guitarist Mark Payne played bluegrass and country music, which Byrd always liked and played himself. 

Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., issued a news release stating, "Though it has been two years since his passing, Sen. Byrd's influence continues to touch the lives of so many throughout West Virginia and the nation."

Rahall said he can still see "that staunch defender of the Constitution and the Congressional power of the purse ... on the Senate floor, arm raised and finger pointing toward the heavens, urging the members of Congress to take the long view, to muster the spine and the guts to make tough choices.... The good Lord only made one Robert C. Byrd."

Sen. Jay  Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said Byrd "loved West Virginia and fought hard for each and every one of us. And he always carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution so it was in his mind during each vote.

"It was a great honor to work alongside him. He stood up for those who couldn't always defend themselves and fought with me for better health care, education, mine safety, veterans' benefits and economic growth," Rockefeller stated in a press release.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D.W.Va., called Byrd "an unwavering defender of the Constitution and a determined fighter for West Virginia" whose "legacy of public service will forever live in our hearts.

"His legacy continues to guide me on issues such as the war in Afghanistan and the need to rebuild America, as well as his concern for protecting our Constitutional system of checks and balances."

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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