Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recalled that when Byrd arrived in the U.S. Senate in 1959, his highest aspiration was to become chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
"Why did he not aspire to the White House, or the governor's mansion?" Reid asked. "Because Robert C. Byrd knew that from that [committee] chair, he could best help his home of West Virginia."
Clinton also recalled how Byrd joined him in the fight to try to get health-care reform passed in the early 1990s -- but balked at Clinton's quasi-constitutional suggestion to simply amend it into the federal budget bill.
Clinton said he was grateful that, in one of Byrd's last votes, he was finally able to cast the decisive vote to pass health-care legislation last winter.
Victoria Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., recalled having tears streaming down her face as Byrd, then confined to a wheelchair, cast that vote on behalf of his late friend Kennedy, a longtime advocate of health-care reform.
"Briefly foes, they became the best of friends," she said of their unlikely alliance. "They came together to keep America's promise."
Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said Byrd "could hobnob with kings and queens and could scold presidents," but said he was happiest sharing a modest meal of beans and cornbread as a guest in a West Virginia home.
During the memorial service under a brilliant summer sky, many of the dignitaries noted that while Byrd will be succeeded in the Senate, he will never be replaced.
That included Gov. Joe Manchin, whom many believe will seek the office in the near future.
"No one, no one, can replace our senator," Manchin said. "No one can fill his shoes, and we must never forget his tireless dedication as we try to follow in his footsteps."
Others who spoke Friday included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.
The ceremony closed with a 21-gun salute and, as Byrd's state-flag-draped casket was escorted from the north steps, the crowd joined in singing, "Take Me Home, Country Roads."
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.