CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Vice President Joe Biden spoke glowingly of Sen. Jay Rockefeller at a dinner in Rockefeller's honor in Charleston on Saturday, calling him a "man of extraordinary character, a generous and decent man," who is one of the greatest senators that he's ever worked with.
"There's not a single man or woman in the Senate who does not trust or respect Jay Rockefeller," Biden said. "Not one."
Biden spoke to about 1,500 people at the Charleston Civic Center for the Jefferson-Jackson dinner, an annual Democratic fundraiser. He compared Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to West Virginia's two late legendary senators, Jennings Randolph and Robert C. Byrd.
"It can be said of Jay Rockefeller what I said of Bob Byrd," Biden said. "West Virginia is written on his heart. He wears it on his sleeve. He takes such pride in this place. He takes such pride in all of you."
Sen. Joe Manchin, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, Rep. Nick Rahall and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, among others, also spoke in praise of Rockefeller.
Rockefeller, who will retire in early 2015 after 30 years in the Senate, spoke on stage with his wife and daughter, reflecting on nearly 50 years in public service in West Virginia.
"Who gets to be so lucky as to fight on a broad scale," Rockefeller said. "For jobs, for health care, for veterans, for seniors, for working people, for miners with black lung, for people who have COPD."
Earlier in the day, Rockefeller attended the opening of a new health program in Cabin Creek for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Rockefeller mentioned the passage of the 1992 Coal Act, which helped miners get health benefits from coal companies, and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act as two of the highlights of his career.
But he also talked about some of the more mundane aspects of being a legislator. He thanked his former staff members -- about 200 of whom were in attendance -- for working tirelessly for constituents who had problems dealing with the government -- like missing a check from the Veterans Administration or from Social Security.
Rockefeller was governor for eight years and has now been a senator for 29 years. He said it took nearly that long to get potable water brought to Emmons, where he lived when he first came to the Mountain State as a VISTA volunteer.
"It's not easy. It's frustrating. Bureaucracies are crushing," Rockefeller said of public service. "We have water now in Emmons, W.Va., and I'm very proud of that."
Rockefeller talked about what first brought him to West Virginia. He had just returned from Japan, where he had been in the Peace Corps and joined VISTA. He had plenty of money and a good life, "but I wasn't settled into who I was, what I was and what I wanted to do with my life.
"In effect I was reborn in a secular sense in Emmons. They told me without telling me, what I needed to do, and who I was, and that I was OK."
Sharon Rockefeller, Jay's wife, spoke of his dedication to politics and public service in personal terms.
When he proposed to her, he asked if they could get married on April 1, because it was the first Saturday after the House of Delegates was out of session. She also noted that their four children, coincidentally or not, were all born in odd-numbered years, when there were no elections.
Biden, who was elected to the Senate seven times and served with Rockefeller for 24 years, spoke about his personal history with West Virginia's senators.