That at his passing, Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) merited the high respect of being laid in state in the Senate Chamber goes without saying. His recognition as the longest-serving member of Congress—fifty-one years in the Senate, following six years of service in the House of Representatives—is only one indication of the remarkable record of Senator Byrd’s call and commitment to the people of West Virginia. Another was his principled and dogged determination to lift his people from the poverty which early paralyzed the state. And that he did.
Senator Byrd came to the Hill having experienced in his own family the poverty of West Virginia, determined to eradicate it. As Adam Clymer noted in the superb New York Times (6.29.10) salute to Senator Byrd, Byrd’s family poverty had denied the Senator, valedictorian of his high school graduating class, the opportunity of pursuing a college degree. But that very deprivation gave birth to Senator Byrd’s unique thirst for an informal education of his own design, rich in history, literature and Biblical studies—many elements of which were integrated into his legislative position on an issue being debated to ensure its integrity.
At times, despite their political persuasion or position on a specific issue, a lobbyist as well as a Member of Congress might endeavor to compare his/her position with that of Senator Byrd, endeavoring to test its solidity against that of the Senator. Too, both legislators and citizens in decision-making roles might well review and with certainty embrace the doctrine of the equality of all peoples and the right of each to that which ensures their human dignity and welfare. Senator Byrd leaves us with that challenge.