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Back Home in West Virginia, Byrd Honored by Washington Colleagues

July 2, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: And, as Judy said, the memorial service was held today for Senator Robert Byrd in his home state of West Virginia.

Hundreds of people, from the elite to the everyday, gathered at the state capitol in Charleston to honor Senator Byrd’s life and service. There was even a bluegrass band, in a tribute to Byrd’s own well-known talent as a fiddler.

When the eulogies came, former President Bill Clinton recalled the senator’s fierce reputation for winning federal dollars for West Virginia.

BILL CLINTON, former president of the United States: He did as good a job for you as he could. As he — as far as he was concerned, there was no such thing as too much for West Virginia. But the one thing he would not do, even for you, is violate his sense of what was required to maintain the integrity of the Constitution and the integrity of the United States’ Senate.

JEFFREY BROWN: And Clinton said it’s important to put in context a darker chapter in Byrd’s long career.

BILL CLINTON: They mentioned that he once had a fleeting association with the Ku Klux Klan. And what does that mean?

I will tell what you it means. He was a country boy from the hills and hollers of West Virginia. He was trying to get elected. And maybe he did something he shouldn’t have done, and he spent the rest of his life making it up. And that’s what a good person does.

There are no perfect people. There are certainly no perfect politicians.

JEFFREY BROWN: Vice President Biden served with Byrd in the Senate for 35 years.

U.S. VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: he traveled a hard path. He devoted his life, though, to making that path a little easier for those who followed. This is a guy who continued to taste and smell and feel the suffering of the people of his state. He tasted it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Biden also serves now as president of the Senate. He remembered an ailing Byrd coming to the chamber last Christmas Eve to vote for health care reform.

JOSEPH BIDEN: He never stopped fighting. How many people would have hung on as long as he did? How many people would have the ability to get back out of that hospital bed and get in a wheelchair and come in and vote, vote for this? He never stopped thinking about his people and the things he cared about.

JEFFREY BROWN: The day’s final eulogy came from President Obama.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Years from now, when I think the of the man we memorialize today, I will remember him as he was when I came to know him. His white hair full like a mane, his gait steadied with a cane, determined to make the most of every last breath.

The distinguished gentleman from West Virginia could be found at his desk until the very end doing the people’s business, delivering soul-stirring speeches, a hint of the Appalachians in his voice, stabbing the air with his finger, fiery as ever years into his tenth decade. He was a Senate icon, he was a party leader, he was an elder statesman, and he was my friend.

JEFFREY BROWN: After the memorial, Byrd’s body was flown back to Arlington, Virginia. He will be buried Tuesday, alongside his wife, Erma, who died in 2006.