Erma Ora James Byrd, the wife of U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd, was remembered Sunday as a kind and gracious woman whose love gave strength to her family.
Mrs. Byrd died Saturday after battling an illness for five years. She was 88.
"Erma Byrd was one of the kindest, most genuine and gracious people you could ever have the privilege to know," U.S. Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va. said in a statement. "She and the senator were a perfect match, and their absolute devotion to each other was apparent to everyone."
U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Mrs. Byrd was a remarkable woman. "Her service to our state has made it a better place to live, and her commitment to her husband of nearly 69 years has been a lesson of love for all of us to live by."
"Erma and I are complete and whole, a total that is more than the sum of its parts," Byrd said of his wife on their 65th wedding anniversary in 2002. "In my life, Erma Ora Byrd is the diamond. She is a priceless treasure, a multifaceted woman of great insight and wisdom, of quiet humor and common sense."
Mrs. Byrd, who met her husband of nearly 69 years when they were in grade school, died at the couple's home in McLean, Va., according to Byrd's spokesman, Tom Gavin.
The senator and members of their family were with her when she died.
The daughter of a coal miner, Mrs. Byrd was born in Floyd County, Va., on June 12, 1917, and moved to southern West Virginia with her family. She met her future husband while both attended Mark Twain Grade School. They married in 1937 when they were 19.
Mrs. Byrd followed her husband's rise from being a Southern West Virginia grocer to one of the longest serving members of the United States Senate. She once said being the wife of a senator was not glamorous, it was hard.
Yet, last year Byrd said he had received his wife's permission to seek a record ninth term in the Senate.
John Raese, a leading Republican candidate for Byrd's seat this year, issued a statement saying,