Sen. Robert Byrd dies at age 92

Sen. Robert Byrd dies at age 92

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), the longest-serving member in congressional history, died early Monday after a serious illness. He was 92.

He brought over a billion dollars to his home state of West Virginia and his name decorates numerous buildings there. He held almost every top leadership position in the Senate, including the chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.


Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Senate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Former US attorney considering Senate run in Vermont as Republican MORE (D-Vt.) called him a “senator’s senator,” citing his command of the chamber history and knowledge of its rules. Byrd was known for carrying a pocket-sized Constitution in his jacket.

Colleagues remembered his great mind, his courtesy and his willingness to change with the times.

In his final days in the Senate, Byrd was often seen in a wheelchair, but he continued to cast votes and attend committee meetings.

His last major appearance was in May, where he spoke to the Senate Rules Committee about his opposition to changing the rules of the filibuster.

“Our Founding Fathers intended the Senate to be a continuing body that allows for open and unlimited debate and the protection of minority rights,” said Byrd at the time. “Senators have understood this since the Senate first convened.”

Late last week, the nine-term senator was admitted to Inova Fairfax Hospital suffering from symptoms related to the unusually hot weather.

He died at approximately 3 a.m. Monday, according to his office.

“I am saddened that the family of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd ... tearfully announces the passing of the longest-serving member of Congress in U.S. history,” a statement from Byrd’s spokesman said.

The statement said Byrd had died “peacefully.” As of press time Monday, no plans were available for his funeral service. His office said the details were still being finalized.

West Virginia Gov. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinLawmaker arrested amid voting rights protest says he'd 'do it again' No Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way WATCH: The Hill recaps the top stories of the week MORE (D) will appoint Byrd’s replacement.

Byrd was haunted throughout his political career by his brief stint in the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, and he acknowledged late in life that it would be a part of his obituary. Byrd briefly served as his local chapter’s leader, or “Exalted Cyclops.”

He would filibuster the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 for more than 14 hours, and he also opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Later he would apologize for those actions. He voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

In 2005, he said of his time in the KKK: “I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times ... and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”

He would later cite his membership in the Baptist church as the cause of his conversion on race relations. The race issue never completely left Byrd, though. In 2001, he had to apologize for comments about “white niggers.”

“He had the courage to stand firm in his principles, but also the courage to change over time,” President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way Biden should pivot to a pro-growth strategy on immigration reform One year on, a critical role needs to be filled by the administration MORE said in a statement.

Byrd endorsed Obama in 2008 after Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonNo Hillary — the 'Third Way' is the wrong way The dangerous erosion of Democratic Party foundations The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat MORE defeated Obama in the West Virginia primary.

“He wasn’t afraid to learn from his mistakes or to change his mind on an issue when he felt he had been wrong,” former President Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonPerdue proposes election police force in Georgia To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill Could the coming 'red wave' election become a 'red tsunami'? MORE said.

Byrd built his “King of Pork” reputation on his ability to deliver federal money to his small home state. He did so without apology and, in 1990, announced that he wanted to be “West Virginia’s billion-dollar industry.” He succeeded.

Today, dozens of West Virginia public institutions are named for him, including roads, school buildings and courthouses.

Byrd’s other enduring reputation will be as a master of Senate rules, procedure and history. Beginning in 1989, he published, with Senate Historian Richard Baker, a 3,000-page, four-volume history of the chamber’s first 200 years.

“More than anyone else in any of our lifetimes, Bob Byrd embodied the Senate. He not only wrote the book on it, he was a living repository of its rules, its customs and its prerogatives,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 WATCH: The Hill recaps the top stories of the week Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum MORE (R-Ky.).

A published author, fiddler and even, briefly, an actor, Byrd rose from meager beginnings as the son of a coal miner to become one of the most powerful men in the Senate.

In 2006, Byrd’s 48th year in the Senate, he passed former Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) to become the longest-serving senator in the history of the chamber. In November 2009, Byrd passed Arizona Democrat Carl Hayden as the longest-serving member of Congress in history. As president pro tem of the Senate, Byrd was third in line for the presidency.


Byrd is survived by his daughters, Mona Byrd Fatemi and Marjorie Byrd Moore; two sons-in-law, Mohammad Fatemi and Jon Moore; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Byrd’s parents originally named him Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr. on Nov. 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, N.C. Byrd’s mother died a year after his birth and he moved to West Virginia to be raised by his aunt and uncle, who renamed him Robert Carlyle Byrd.

Graduating as his high school’s valedictorian, Byrd couldn’t afford college and went on to work various blue-collar jobs before winning a seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1946. He never lost an election.

Byrd ascended to the state Senate in 1950, the House of Representatives in 1952 and the Senate in 1958. He has served in Congress through 12 presidents.

Byrd would go on to hold almost every top leadership position in the Senate, including two stints as majority leader in the 1970s and ’80s and several later periods as chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee. He voluntarily left the chairmanship in January 2009 because of concerns about his health.

In his later years, Byrd was best-known for his failed effort against the founding of the post-9/11 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and for his vigorous opposition, from its outset, to the war in Iraq.

In 2002, he filibustered the resolution giving then-President George W. Bush the authority to invade Iraq, but failed when most Democrats joined Republicans in voting for it.

He became one of the Democrats’ biggest critics of the war and Bush, saying he had “never seen an administration so discourteous, so arrogant toward the legislative branch,” in all his years.

But Bush wasn’t the only president he didn’t get along with. Among his other quarrels with the commanders in chief, Byrd refused to attend any of Clinton’s State of the Union addresses from 1994 to the end of his presidency, citing their “lifestyle” differences.

Much like his politics, Byrd’s many pursuits over the years set him apart from his colleagues in the Senate.

He completed his law and Bachelor of Arts degrees, in that order, while serving in the Senate. He earned the law degree in 1963 from American University and the B.A. from Marshall University in 1994, when he was in his late 70s. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) spoke at his law school graduation.

In 1978, Byrd released his own album, “Mountain Fiddler,” and performed on several other bands’ recordings and at the Kennedy Center.

In 2003, he made a cameo appearance in the Civil War movie “Gods and Generals,” as a Confederate general.

In May 2008, Byrd stunned colleagues and observers when he broke down on the Senate floor after paying tribute to Kennedy, who had been diagnosed with cancer. Byrd, wiping tears from his eyes, said: “Ted, I love you, and I miss you.” During the final vote on healthcare reform in December 2009, Byrd paid tribute to Kennedy when he cast his vote, saying: “Mr. President, this is for my friend Ted Kennedy! Aye!”

Over the years, Byrd’s incumbency was hardly ever challenged, despite the state’s increasingly Republican politics. No opponent took more than 35 percent against him since he was first elected to the Senate, and he won all 55 of West Virginia’s counties several times.

Byrd was determined to serve out his days in the chamber he so cherished, saying shortly after his 2006 reelection that he intended to run again in 2012, when he would have been 94.

He lost his wife of 68 years, Erma Ora James Byrd, to illness in 2006. He had several buildings in West Virginia named after her.

Byrd was very fond of his Shih Tzu, named Trouble, and was often seen around the Capitol with the dog.

Sean J. Miller, Shane D’Aprile and Aaron Blake contributed to this article.

This article was originally posted at 5:54 a.m. and updated at 9:32 a.m. and 8:47 p.m.