Below is a transcript of speeches at the memorial service for U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, held at the West Virginia State Capitol July 2, 2010. More tributes from the service will be added as they are made available.
Click to go to the speech.
While we mourn the loss of our son of West Virginia, today we come together to celebrate the outstanding life of a man, the likes of whom we shall never see again. In one of the five books that Senator Byrd authored he said, We must study the great figures of our history and carry them forward in our imaginations as living, breathing presences we can in effect consult on vital issues of the day.
Without question, Sen. Robert C. Byrd is a pillar in our nation's history. His leadership and influence have stretched well beyond the borders of the Mountain State.
My first memory of Sen. Byrd was as a young boy working in the back of my grandfather's grocery store in the small coal mining town Farmington, W.Va. I remember hearing scripture of the Bible being quoted from two great orators - my grandfather, Papa Joe, and Robert C Byrd. Both held the same great occupation - grocery store butchers. They were discussing bible and business with great fervor. I still remember it today. My personal memory of meeting the senator is no different than so many West Virginians - meeting Sen. Robert C. Byrd in every small nook and cranny of this great state. That is why this loss is so personal, because we are all family in West Virginia.
Sen. Byrd will be remembered for his tireless contributions to the people of West Virginia and to the United States of America. As the longest serving member of Congress - having cast more votes and held more leadership positions than any other Senator, and a historic 57 years of service in Congress - it would be impossible to stand here and recite all that our beloved senator did for you and me.
From highways and hospitals to schools and technology centers - there are more than 50 projects in West Virginia that bear his name, or that of his beloved wife.
We will remember Sen. Byrd for the strong family man that he was. The love-of-his-life, Erma, and their two daughters, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren provided unconditional support.
We will remember Sen. Byrd for the devoted public servant that he was. He helped to create thousands of jobs. He helped to protect our veterans and provide healthcare to rural areas.
We will remember his commitment to transforming our economy. We will remember his ongoing quest to provide our youth with the opportunity to learn, work and succeed. We will remember his steadfast leadership, his wisdom, his reason, his compassion, his strong voice and enthusiasm. We will never forget his deeply-rooted spiritual conviction and his utmost respect for our founding fathers.
However, more importantly, we will remember his innate qualities: honesty, integrity, loyalty, an intense respect for democracy and his unwavering love for the people and our state.
The senator truly epitomized the spirit of West Virginia. He wore that Mountain State spirit on his sleeve and never forgot where that journey in history began, back in Wolf Creek Hollow, in Sophia, W.Va. Nor did he forget the hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people of West Virginia, who he loved as if they were extended family.
When he launched a career in public service some 60 plus years ago, our state was a blank canvas, untouched by the colors of the modern ways of life. Sen. Byrd brought that blank canvas to life using broad intellect and optimism and a can-do spirit that resonated throughout the hills of West Virginia.
In fact, when his political career was in its beginning stages, there were only four miles of divided four-lane highway in our state, and Sen. Byrd made it his mission to transform those barren lands. He was a true champion; a man of his word, and a true patriot and guardian of the United States Constitution.
Sen. Byrd was looked up to by all of Congress and often referred to as the Conscience of the Senate. A long list of colleagues have sang his praises, here are just a few: Sen. Bob Dole said, He has set a standard as a Senator, as a legislative leader, and as a statesman that will stand among the best as long as there is a Senate. His dear friend Sen.
Ted Kennedy said that He personifies what our Founding Fathers were thinking about when they were thinking about a United States Senate. He has been called a patriot and warrior of the United States Constitution.
However, the best way that I can describe the senator is as the Architect of Appalachia. He is the most historic figure to ever call West Virginia home, and will forever live in our hearts and those of our children. No one can replace our senator. No one can fill his shoes; we must never forget his tireless dedication as we humbly follow in his footsteps.
Sen. Byrd, you've toiled and triumphed on behalf of the Mountain State, and now your time to rest has come. Your memory will live in our hearts forever.
May God Bless You and Erma. May God Bless the State of West Virginia. May God Bless America.
Today, as West Virginians, we mourn the incredible loss of our friend our fighter, our protector and our Senator - Robert C. Byrd.
And today, we also celebrate his remarkable life. This is not an easy balance for us.
From the southern hills to the northern panhandle, we have shed many tears at the news of his passing.
Yet we stand together as a people, with warmth in our hearts knowing that his legacy will live on, and grateful that the nation today pauses to honor him.
Senator Byrd was, in so many ways, the embodiment of what it is to be a West Virginian.
Working together with Robert C. Byrd was my greatest honor. I spent decades working in partnership with him. He made me - and all of us - so very proud to be West Virginians.
He took such a pure joy - and ferocious, unyielding pride - not just in the Senate as an institution, but in pulling the levers of power for West Virginia, for people, for education and veterans, for health care and for economic opportunity.
It was in his blood. It was his sacred cause. Robert C. Byrd reached great heights because of the purity of his purpose and the depth of his determination.
Every day, I intimately witnessed that Senator Byrd never forgot where he came from and he never let up - even when his heart was broken.
First, with the tragic death of his young grandson. And then, I know a part of him was lost forever when his beloved Erma passed on.
Watching him hurt was deeply agonizing for all who loved him. I wished so much that there was anything I could do to ease his pain.
I was so moved by Senator Byrd's continuing on so strongly as he did after losing Erma.
When Senator Byrd and I would see each other on the Senate Floor since Erma's passing, he would take my hand, ever so gently, and hold it to his cheek.
To Sharon and I - and all of us in West Virginia - Robert C. Byrd was our family.
And it was his special touch that made us all shine.
Thank you, Senator Byrd.
We will miss you.
From the bottom of our hearts, we thank you.
And always, we honor you.
Ya know I just, just never really thought he'd die. Just never really thought he would.
Although this day is not unexpected, it is unexpectedly difficult to stand here to say goodbye, to Senator Robert C. Byrd - our Senator, our Chairman, our mentor, our friend, our Big Daddy. He was so eloquent and so erudite, that it is daunting to find the words that can encompass the enormity of the man and all that he has left behind.
All around us, Senator Byrd has left his legacy to the State and the Nation that he loved. We could talk about the bricks and mortar, the records set both in West Virginia and national legislators, but Senator Byrd has quite literally paved our way to the future. He has paved a path to the future. But I believe that his most lasting legacy will come from the example he set with his own life-with his own life, full of lessons for each of us to learn from and build upon.
Senator Byrd never stopped learning and never stopped working, despite the obstacles that we all know and the setbacks that would immobilize less determined individuals. He was a great reader, a great reader of what he called the greatest book of all -- the Bible, of histories from ancient Rome to the
twentieth Century, to poetry and believe you me, from memory. I heard it often whether on his staff driving him back and forth between Washington and West Virginia or even as his Congressman driving him back and forth to West Virginia. I heard such recitations very often. And indeed they kept me awake when I was driving the car. I have always been working for Senator Byrd for over forty years on his staff and in the Senate Democratic Cloak room and now until the last few days as his Congressman.
When Senator Byrd had a problem, when he needed help on an issue he would always call his Congressman and I'd be there to help him in any way I could.
He loved beautiful words and he loved to share them. The Congressional Record and our public libraries are much richer for it.
No Bible nor dictionary went unread by Senator Byrd.
A lover of history, Senator Byrd deftly put history to work with more passion and power and promise than anyone in the Republic's history. But while he relished history, he lived for the future - the future of his great State and our great Country. He was unapologetic to critics of his efforts to bring federal programs and dollars to West Virginia. To him, it was a labor of love, and when Robert C. Byrd loved, he loved deeply and for all the days of his life.
To Senator Byrd the Constitution was not as a historical relic, but rather the living, breathing soul of the Republic. He was its greatest defender and its most impassioned promoter.
It is fitting that this lover of history, the guardian of the Constitution, this son of the Senate, is being memorialized even as the Nation celebrates Independence Day. Senator Byrd may not have been a Founding Father, but this adopted son of a West Virginia coal miner would have been right at home among them.
Yes, he could hob-knob with Kings and Queens all over the world and princes and princesses, and he could scold Presidents of the United States. But you know my friends you know as well as I know where he was most comfortable. That was either in my parents' home in Beckley, West Virginia in Raleigh West Virginia, or in my home or in your home. He was much more comfortable sitting down to a dinner of beans, and cornbread and onions, and sipping buttermilk.
He competed only against himself, to work the hardest, to do the most, to cast the greatest number of votes, to be his very best. And in doing so, he inspired generations of West Virginia.
Yes, Senator Byrd, in the words of one of his favorite poems, has now "...crossed the bar," crossed the bar. He has set sail on a journey to that farthest shore, where his beloved Erma, waits for him. I know that I speak for my colleagues today Representative Alan Mollohan and Representative Shelley Moore Capito in saying Godspeed, my dear Senator.
In his role as President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Senator Byrd represented the entire Senate at significant national events. His compatriot during those events, our Speaker of the House of Representatives, who is joined here today by our Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, but our Speaker knew Senator Byrd almost as well as we West Virginians. They traveled together; they represented both bodies of this great Country of ours, in many different forums.
The Speaker's and Senator Byrd's approaches to statecraft are as similar in that no detail is too small, every vote counts, no vote is taken for granted and every person matters. They both share a passion for people.
Ladies and Gentlemen welcome the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.
Good afternoon. Mr. President, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Leaders Reid and McConnell, Bishop Grove, so many friends of Senator Byrd who are gathered here. I am so pleased to join my colleagues from West Virginia-Mr. Rahall, who is a chairman and a great leader in the Congress of the United States; Congressman Alan Mollohan, he is a chairman as well; Shelley Moore Capito. I am pleased to be with them as well as our delegation from the House of Representatives led by our Leader Steny Hoyer in the House.
I bring, as Speaker of the House, I sadly have the privilege of bringing the condolences of the House of Representatives to Marjorie and to Mona and the entire Byrd family. As a friend of Senator Byrd, I do so with great sadness.
But happily, thanks to the Byrd family, some of us had the opportunity to sing Senator Byrd's praises in his presence in December, when he became the longest-serving Member of Congress in American history.
I noted then that Senator Byrd's Congressional service began in the House of Representatives. In those six years in the House, he demonstrated what would become the hallmarks of his commitment: his love of the people of West Virginia, his passion for history and public service, and his remarkable oratorical skills.
And I am going to talk to you about his service in the House briefly. In 1953, this is one of his earliest speeches, he came to the floor of the House and he said: 'I learned quite a long time before becoming a Member of this House that there is an unwritten rule in the minds of some, perhaps, which is expected to cover the conduct of new members in a legislative body to the extent that they should be often seen but seldom be heard; I have observed this rule,' he said, 'very carefully up to this time and I shall continue to do so... however...the book of Ecclesiastes...says: 'To everything there is a season... a time to keep silence and a time to speak.' And he decided it was time for him to speak.
He went on in that speech; it was one of his earliest speeches. He went on in that speech to quote not only the bible but Shakespeare, Rudyard Kipling, and Daniel Webster. And, Mr. President, this was a speech about world trade.
Though he thrived in the House, when he moved on to the Senate, Senator Byrd remarked that he was happy to leave behind the limitations on speaking time on the House floor.
On a personal moment, I'll never forget a dinner I hosted for him in the early 80's when he was running for reelection at that time, in California.
After dinner, we didn't know what to expect. We were all so nervous to be in the presence of such a great person. And what did he do? He pulled out his fiddle and regaled us with West Virginia tunes and told us great stories about each and every one of you. That was an act of friendship that I will never forget.
Later, when I came to Congress, I told Senator Byrd how my father, who had served in Congress, gave me the image of a coalminer carved in coal. It is the only thing I have from my father's office as a Member of Congress. It had been a gift to him from Jennings Randolph, who had represented West Virginia so well, and it sat in my father's office when he was in the House of Representatives.
It now sits in the Speaker's office. It is in my West Virginia corner, along with a silver tray from Senator Byrd which I love especially because it is engraved, 'With thanks, from Robert and Erma.'
In the beginning of my comments, I mentioned a speech of Senator Byrd's on the House floor. That day, in 1953, he quoted the words of Daniel Webster. These words, when you come to the Capitol, are etched on the wall of the chamber high above the Speaker's chair. And these words would come to define his leadership but he voiced them in that earliest speech. Senator Byrd said, 'Let us develop the resources of our land, call forth its powers, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests and see whether we also in our day and generation may not perform something worthy to be remembered.' Daniel Webster.
Senator Byrd's service, and his leadership, were more than worthy to be remembered for many generations to come. And as my colleague Mr. Rahall said, it is very appropriate that we are celebrating Robert Byrd's life and putting him to rest in the week of July 4th; he was a great American patriot. And as Governor Manchin said, we shall never see his like again.
May he rest in peace. Amen.
Thank you. Thank you very much. Governor, all the members of Senator Byrd's family, Mr. President, Mr. Vice President, Madam Speaker, Congressman Rahall and all the House members here, Senator Reid, Senator McConnell, all the senators, thank you, Senator Rockefeller and thank you, Vicki Kennedy.
I'd also like to thank all the people here who at the time of his passing, or ever worked for Robert Byrd who helped him to succeed for the people of West Virginia. I thank them.
And, I want to thank the Martin Luther King male chorus. They gave us a needed break from all these politicians talking up here.
I want to say first that I come here to speak for two members my family. Hillary wanted to be here today and she paid her respects to Senator Byrd as he lay in state in the United States Senate before making a trip on behalf of our country to Central and Eastern Europe.
I am grateful to Bob Byrd for many things, but one thing that no one has given enough attention to in my opinion today is that while he always wanted to be the best senator, and he always wanted to be the longest-serving senator, he wanted every other senator to be the best senator that he or she could be. And he helped Hillary a lot when she came to represent the people of New York. I am forever grateful for that.
Now, everybody else has canonizing Senator Byrd. I would like to humanize him a little bit.
Because I think it makes it more interesting and makes his service all the more important much. First of all, most people had to go all the way to Washington to become awed by, you might even say intimidated by Robert Byrd.
Not me. I had advance experience before I got elected. [The first] time I ever ran for office, at the opening of campaign season in Arkansas, below the Waccamaw and Ozark mountains, which were once connected to the Appalachians, we had this big rally. And the year I started, don't you know, Robert Byrd was the speaker.
1974, April, I'll never forget it. It was a beautiful spring night.
And he gave one of those stem-winding speeches. And then he got up and he played the fiddle, and the crowd went crazy. And you know, in 1974, in a place like Arkansas or West Virginia, playing the fiddle was a whole lot better for your politics than playing the saxophone. So I am completely intimidated.
And then all the candidates get to speak. They're all limited to four or five minutes. Some went over. All the candidates for governor and every state officer. And then the members of the -- people running for the House of Representatives, there were five of us. We were dead last. And I drew the short straw. I was dead last among them.