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By Calvin Woodward
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- How that man loved to speak.
Robert C. Byrd once talked in the Senate for 14 hours and 13 minutes straight. In his half century in that chamber he spoke of the Roman Empire, the West Virginia coal fields, the Peloponnesian War and the West Virginia mountains. He recited poetry, quoted the Bible like the lay preacher he once was and gave speeches about his little dogs Billy and Baby.
He talked about how vital it is to the very well-being of the nation that senators be allowed to talk as much as they want.
Byrd carried himself like a man from another century. Dead Monday at age 92, he nearly was.
His words seemed to spring from the flourish of a quill pen dipped in ink. He could channel Cicero and recite the names of all British monarchs in order.
A poorly educated son of Appalachia, Byrd became patriarch of the Senate, serving longer and casting more votes than any in history.
The West Virginian was its most passionate scold, teacher, interpreter, defender and manipulator.
Regardless of party, he took newcomers under his wing and never forgot a slight. He authored few pieces of groundbreaking legislation but ensured, in 2004, that every school that gets federal money and all federal civil servants must learn about the Constitution every Sept. 17, the date it was signed by the 1787 convention.
A de facto parliamentary overlord with a worn copy of that Constitution in his pocket, Byrd sought most broadly to restrain the power of the presidency -- for America has no monarch -- and to protect the minority party in the Senate from being crushed.
The more picayune the matter, the more eloquent he could be.
"Some in the Senate are ready to callously incinerate each senator's right of extended debate," he stormed in 2005 during a struggle over judicial nominees and attempts by the then-Republican leadership to close down debate.