Age and length of sevice are important but more importantly is what Byrd's life represented. He was orphaned at the age of one or two so he never really knew his parents. An aunt and uncle adopted him and moved him from his birth state of North Carolina to the coalfields of southern West Virginia.
His adopted father made a living for the family by working in and around the coal mines. The family moved around to different coal camps. Byrd, at a young age, adopted the strongest work ethics and a strong desire for education. He loved his country. His desire to serve led him to politics. He made bad mistakes but he acknowledged those mistakes and told his people why he acted as he did. He said that he became a member of the KKK to gain political support from powerful people -
rich people who could help him win elections.
While I was working on my first book on Appalachia - titled: Appalachia Spirit Triumphant (a cultural odyssey of Appalachia by B. L. Dotson-Lewis (2004) I called Sen. Byrd's office frequently. I spoke with Martha Ann McIntosh, his assistant. She arranged for me to get a story about Robert C. Byrd for my book. She told if I could come to D.C. she felt positive I could see Byrd in person. I never did get to go.
I did meet him in Beckley at the Regional Airport. I heard he was coming in so I asked a friend, Joan Moore, if she wanted to go over and meet Sen. Byrd. We met him as he got off the plane. He was so nice and friendly. He hugged us. He was warm and kind.
For all the talk about Sen. Byrd's replacement - it cannot happen. Whomever gets the seat - it is a filler - not a replacement. Robert C. Byrd was one of a kind. He was our West Virginian.