CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For decades, West Virginia benefited from efforts by U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd to send thousands of jobs to the state. Byrd worked to provide money to pave interstate highways, build hospitals, courthouses and office buildings and expand National Guard bases across the state.
The impact of Byrd's efforts might become even more obvious after the loss of his voice in the U.S. Senate.
"You sometimes don't know what you had until it is gone," said Adjutant General Allen Tackett, head of the state's National Guard. "I think the people of West Virginia will discover what they had. The goose who laid the golden egg is gone."
Since 1995, when Tackett became head of the West Virginia National Guard, Byrd directed $786 million in federal funds for military construction work in West Virginia.
"The C-130 airplanes would not be here in Charleston had it not been for Senator Byrd protecting them," Tackett said. "I don't think there is anybody who can fill his shoes in helping the military in West Virginia.
"He sat on the Senate Appropriations, Authorization and Armed Services committees. No one else wielded that kind of power."
"Last night, West Virginia lost the best friend it ever had," Tackett said.
"Byrd once said he would be the 'billion-dollar man' for West Virginia, including projects like the new FBI center, medical schools and roads. He ended up getting a billion dollars just for highways," said Fred VanKirk, an engineer and longtime head of the state's highways and transportation departments.
"Without the relationships he had in Congress, his know-how and his seniority, it will be a sad day for West Virginia," VanKirk said. "We will be hard-pressed to come up with funding, or 'pork,' or whatever you want to call it.
"He always had the economic development of the state of West Virginia at heart. ... He will never be replaced and the state of West Virginia will be in dire straits for a while."
U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall called Byrd's death "an enormous loss personally and for our state." He said the state's congressional delegation would continue to push to bring projects to West Virginia.