The high school sweetheart U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd married almost 69 years ago, Erma Ora James Byrd, died Saturday at their home in McLean, Va.
Byrd and members of their family were with her when she died. She was 88 and had been ill for about five years, members of Byrd's office explained when they announced her death.
"I wish that more people could know the joy I have had in finding one's soulmate early in life and then sharing that deep companionship over many happy years," Byrd said.
The couple started their married life in Sophia, Raleigh County. Although Mrs. Byrd traveled around the world and met many famous people through her husband's work, she remained an unpretentious woman. She did not give any interviews until 1982. She noted in that interview that life as a senator's wife was often hard. "The husbands are very busy and away from home, and you have to build your day around that. I don't go to many social functions like some others try to do. We enjoy a quiet evening at home."
She was the daughter of Fred James, a coal miner, who died young. Byrd met his future wife through her father, who was one of the people that taught Byrd how to play the fiddle.
Erma appeared with her husband when he played the fiddle on "Hee Haw." Ironically, another "Hee Haw" star, Buck Owens, also died Saturday.
In May 1937, the Byrds were married in the home of a Baptist minister. The Byrds are members of the Crab Orchard Baptist Church in Raleigh County where they were baptized in the summer of 1944.
In 1948, the Byrds opened a grocery store that she ran after her husband was elected to the West Virginia Legislature.
In 1950, when the Byrds bought their first car, Erma taught her husband how to drive.