He can take credit for "highways, dams, bridges, federal facilities and jobs, health centers and educational institutions," Rockefeller said. "And the best part is, he's not finished."
"What do you get when you multiply the power of the beacon by the strength of a workhorse by the steadiness of an anchor? Robert C. Byrd," said Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va.
Byrd's "ability to deliver for our state" is awe-inspiring, said David Hardesty, the president of West Virginia University. "His votes are guided by his understanding of the Constitution and by his dedication to the people of this state."
Manchin also emphasized Byrd's future.
"People also need to know that Senator Byrd has a lot of years of service left in him," he said. "When people ask about what he has done, he says, 'I want to talk about people who can help me do what we still need to do.'"
Born in Wilkesboro, N.C., in 1917, Byrd grew up in a coal mining family in Sophia, Raleigh County.
Nearly 20 years later, he married Erma Ora James, who passed away on March 25 of this year. Today, Mrs. Byrd would have turned 89.
"She was the greatest pillar of strength, a central pillar of my life, during the many years God put us together," Byrd said. "I am doing what I think she would want me to do."
Byrd's perseverance in the face of personal losses is remarkable, Warner, his longtime Senate colleague, said.
"His devotion to his family is second to none in the Senate," Warner said. "He lost his grandson. I went to the funeral of his wife. He always emerged, shouldered the loss, stuck out his chin and carried on."
Byrd recalls his upbringing in his recently published autobiography, "Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields."
"Every day, when I get up in the morning, I remember what I am - a country boy. I am really a boy who came up from scratch in West Virginia.
"I have known the people's hardships. I have known the lot of the people Erma and I came up with through the Great Depression. I know how much prosperity the rest of the country experienced and how much West Virginia was bypassed, how much of Appalachia was bypassed."
West Virginia continues to lag other states in important areas, and that's what motivates him, Byrd says.
"Today, there are still people in West Virginia - and across the country - that do not have safe drinking water, and who have to take a bus a long way to see a doctor," the longest-serving senator said. "The people of West Virginia are my bosses. I try to help them where I can."
To contact staff writer Paul J. Nyden, use e-mail or call 348-5164.