WASHINGTON -- As Sen. Robert C. Byrd was being laid to rest after a week of memorials, a niece eulogized him Tuesday as a person who suffered from dyslexia. The revelation surprised others in Byrd's family, who later said they had no knowledge that the West Virginia senator suffered from the learning disability.
The 92-year-old senator, who served in Congress longer than anyone else, received a 21-gun salute as he was buried in a suburban Washington cemetery near his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma.
The final farewell focused on the man away from the institution he revered -- the son of coal miners, the widowed husband, grandfather and great-grandfather who earned a college degree at 77 and learned to swim at 90.
Byrd's niece, Jassowyn "Jackie" Sale Hurd, told mourners gathered at Memorial Baptist Church that he once counseled her on her own dyslexia.
"He shared with me something that's probably going to surprise you all," she said. "He's dyslexic, too."
The statement stunned those who had worked with Byrd over the years. Brief interviews with more than a dozen current and former Senate staffers turned up none who saw any indication that Byrd, the author of five books and a master of the complex appropriations process, ever struggled with his ability to read.
Later Tuesday, Byrd's family cast doubt on whether it was true.
"Perhaps he had some difficulty reading in his later years, but the family does not know of dyslexia," said Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs. "They believe he was probably being consoling to her and offering her words of encouragement."