From fighting "fast track" to saving Amtrak, from protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to questioning the new Homeland Security Department, from saving steelworkers' jobs to defending federal workers' rights, Sen. Robert C. Byrd was there this year.
From advocating the rights of military veterans to promoting the teaching of high school history ...
From questioning pre-emptive military strikes to insisting Americans must know what their government does in the Philippines, in Colombia, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Palestine ...
And for standing up to threats to basic civil liberties and for the Constitution, Robert C. Byrd - who grew up poor in a coal mining family in Sophia - was the "Conscience of the Senate."
The year 2002 would have been remarkable for any senator who fought hard for two or three of these causes. Byrd fought for all of them. And he fought even when most of his colleagues shied away from questioning the propriety of pre-emptive war.
For these reasons and more, the Sunday Gazette-Mail has named Byrd the 2002 West Virginian of the Year.
Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., said: "If ever there was a giant in the Senate, it's Bob Byrd. He's respected by all of us. He's renowned for his vast ability on the issues, his extraordinary knowledge of Senate history and his constant dedication to insisting that the Senate lives up to the ideals of the Constitution.
"He ranks with the all-time Senate greats. If the founding fathers were meeting today, Bob Byrd would be one of them."
David Montgomery, a Yale University history professor, said: "His is a voice of sanity. The administration has shown itself not only willing, but eager, to destroy both world peace and our country's constitutional liberties and procedures all for the sake of creating and unleashing military power that no country may dare resist.
"Senator Byrd reminds the president and all Americans of the best in our country's traditions," Montgomery said.
"I believe that if the framers of the Constitution could have been sitting in the galleries this year, they would have strongly approved of the positions I have taken and the remarks I have made," Byrd said during an interview earlier this month.
"They would have been equally saddened by the weakness upon the part of the legislative branch to stand up for its power and prerogatives under the Constitution. And they would also have been frightened, I think, by the administration and its pell-mell rush to take this country into war and to develop a huge bureaucracy with so little aforethought. I believe that this is the way they would have reacted."
Dr. Richard Baker, the official Senate historian, said Byrd "knows more about the institutional operation of the Senate than anybody in the entire history of the Senate, at least since Daniel Webster and Thomas Hart Benton.
"For me, as the historian of the Senate, it is an honor to be here when Senator Byrd is in office. By his interest, he takes a natural inclination on the part of people in the Senate to value tradition and turns the spotlight on that venue more brightly."
Throughout his long career, Byrd has defended the Constitution.
"It is because of that Constitution that we have three branches of government. It is because of that Constitution that we have separation of powers, the checks and balances so very important in our daily lives," Byrd said.
James P. Shenton, a Columbia University history professor, said: "He is a rock of stability. You can depend on him to consistently take the stands he does. When it comes to integrity, that is the ultimate test. He didn't constantly try to keep abreast of the political pressures of the moment.
"There is something about Senator Byrd that triggers my memories of Harry Truman. Byrd never hedges. If you ask him a straight question, you get a straight answer. That makes him one of the more intriguing people in the Senate," Shenton said.'He is a real-life Horatio Alger'
One of this year's most powerful, recurring congressional images was of Robert C. Byrd standing on the Senate floor, holding up a copy of the Constitution.
In past years, Byrd was often photographed playing his fiddle, especially on the campaign trail. He still likes to tell West Virginians their best friends are "God, Carter's Little Liver Pills and Robert C. Byrd."
Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va, said: "He is a real-life Horatio Alger, having risen from humble beginnings to the pinnacle of power. The thing that defines Senator Byrd throughout his career is that he always kept the faith with those who put their trust in him, principally his constituents."
Born in 1917 in North Wilkesboro, N.C., Byrd became an orphan when his mother died the following year. His aunt and uncle, a coal miner, brought him to Southern West Virginia.
During the Depression, Byrd graduated as valedictorian of his high school class. Without money, he pumped gas, sold produce, worked as a butcher, welded battleships.
In 1946, Byrd ran for the House of Delegates and served two terms before winning a state Senate seat in 1950. In 1952, he won a seat in Congress and in 1958, a seat in the U.S. Senate.
During those early years, Byrd cast some votes he regretted. Byrd believes the biggest mistake he made was filibustering, and voting against, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Earlier this year, Byrd talked about another vote that year.
"I recall all too well the nightmare of Vietnam. I recall too well the antiwar protests and demonstrations, the campus riots, and the tragic deaths at Kent State, as well as the resignation of a president. And I remember all too well the gruesome daily body counts in Vietnam," Byrd told the Senate in June.
Byrd praised Sens. Wayne Morse, D-Ore., and Ernst Gruening, D-Alaska - the only two who voted against the Tonkin Gulf Resolution in August 1964 that expanded the war in Southeast Asia.
"Morse expressed his concern that the Pentagon and the executive branch were perpetrating a 'snow job' upon Congress and the American people," Byrd said. "If the Senate approved the Tonkin Gulf Resolution, Senator Morse warned, the 'senators who vote for it will live to regret it.'"
Byrd himself was one of those senators. And his state, West Virginia, saw a greater percentage of its sons die in Vietnam than any other.
This fall, Byrd delivered some of the most impassioned speeches of his 50 years in Congress, urging fellow senators to deny the Bush administration a "blank check" to attack Iraq.
"Congress will be putting itself on the sidelines," he said. Quoting Roman historian Titus Livius, Byrd called Bush "blind and improvident."
"As we learned all too well in Korea, Vietnam and Somalia, it is dangerous to present Congress and the American people with a fait accompli on important matters of foreign affairs," Byrd said.
Former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton called Byrd "a person who had remarkable growth in power and in position and in intellect. But he always maintained his sense of where he came from.
"I have been particularly proud of what he has done related to the Iraq situation. He did not just follow the easy way to go. He sincerely believes in the constitutional responsibility of the Senate and his responsibility as a senator," Caperton said.
In November, Byrd called the 484-page Homeland Security bill a "monstrosity." He told colleagues, "There are members of the U.S. Senate and House who are terrified apparently if the president of the United States tells them, urges them, to vote a certain way that may be against their belief. ...
"It was shifting power from the legislative branch to the executive branch. I am not for that."
Byrd lost that vote, 90 to 9. But he reached a national audience.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said: "My wife and I are Catholic and go to church in Chicago. One Sunday, we came back from communion at the altar and were kneeling down in our pews, with the choir singing.
"An older fellow standing next to me looked down and said, 'Stick with Bob Byrd.' Back in Washington, I told him, 'They are following you in Chicago, Senator Byrd,'" Durbin said.
When Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., retires in January, Byrd will become the Senate's longest-serving member. In 2006, Byrd could become the longest serving senator in U.S. history. He has already cast more roll-call votes than anyone in the Senate's 214 years.