July 2nd, 2010
06:12 PM ET

Obama: Byrd 'climbed to such extraordinary peaks'

[Posted at 1:31 p.m.] President Barack Obama told the people of West Virginia that the entire United States shares in their loss with the death of Sen. Robert Byrd.

"He was a Senate icon," Obama said. "And he was my friend. That's how I'll remember him. Today we remember the path he climbed to such extraordinary peaks."

Obama said making life better in West Virginia was Byrd's only agenda.

"Giving you hope, he said, was his greatest achievement," Obama said. "Hope through roads and research centers, schools..."

Watch Obama speak at Byrd memorial

Obama spoke of Byrd's knowing that life was marked with your weaknesses and strengths, sins and truths and successes and failures.

"Like the Constitution," Obama said. "Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality - and that is the capacity to change, the capacity to learn, the capacity to listen."

[Posted at 1:11 p.m.] Vice President Joe Biden said while many senators revered the Senate "Robert C. Byrd elevated the Senate."

Biden said it couldn't have been more fitting for Byrd to lie in repose inside the Senate chambers, instead of in the rotunda.

"That was his cathedral," Biden said.

Biden remembered Byrd as the "fiercest" defender of his state and the people's way of life and a man who he never called "Senator," but instead "Leader."

The Vice President also talked about Byrd's quote that when he was dead his state's name would be written on his heart.

"West Virginia was not only written in his heart," Biden said. "He also wore it on his sleeve."

Biden said Byrd was dedicated to his state more than anyone he has ever know.

"Even once he became power, he always spoke truth," he said.

Biden pointed out the pin he normally wears - of the flag of the United States. And he referenced the several times that Byrd would come up to Biden on the floor of the Senate, remove Biden's flag pin and replace it with a pin of the Constitution.

"So boss, I'm wearing the pin," Biden said, as he looked up to the sky.

Biden spoke of Byrd's strength and his devotion to the people of his state and how he got out of a hospital in a wheelchair to make sure he could cast a vote in the battle over health care.

"He died like he lived his life," Biden said. "He never stopped fighting."

[Posted at 12:52 p.m.]

Former President Bill Clinton said he was grateful to Sen. Byrd for not only his work for his state, but working to help other senators, including his wife Secretary of State Hillary Clinton do their best as senators.

Clinton, during his speech at the memorial, said instead of just paying tribute Byrd, he also wanted to humanize him. He recalled all of the times they spent together, some of the lessons he taught him along the way and how he learned that a fiddle could go a long way, "longer than a saxophone" to help your politics on the campaign trail back when they first met.

Clinton joked that when he was President the people of Arkansas would complain that Byrd's state and people were getting more money and projects - even though Clinton was now the president.

"I was getting the living daylights beat out of me once a week," Clinton joked. He said at one point, he turned to Byrd, knowing his sense of humor and said: "You know, if you pave every inch of road in West Virginia, it's going to be harder to mine coal."

Clinton said if you were having constitutional differences with Byrd - it was better for your longterm health if you won the battle.

"You've never been lectured until Bob Byrd lectured you," Clinton said.

Clinton praised Byrd for his love of his state - and his belief there was never enough he could do for West Virginia. The former president noted Byrd's early history and the discussion of his involvement with the Klu Klux Klan. Clinton said he may have made a mistake back then, but it was one he worked to make up for his entire life.

"That's what a good person does," Clinton said. "There are no perfect people, there are certainly no perfect politicians."

The former president praised Byrd's willingness to fight from out of a corner and continuing will to learn as part as what has helped strengthen our country and always form a more perfect union.

"He fought a good fight, he kept the faith, he has finished his course, but not ours," Clinton said. " If we really would honor him today and everyday we must remember his lessons and live by them."

[Posted at 12:31 p.m.] Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid remembers trying to impress Sen. Byrd when he read the "Legends of Robinson Crusoe" because of how much Byrd loved reading.

When he told Byrd about the book, Reid said he remembered Byrd pausing, his eyes gazing toward heaven before he said a few words.

"Twenty eight years, two months and 19 days," Byrd said, referring to the exact amount of time Crusoe was on the island. He knew the exact number despite having read the book more than 50 years earlier.

"I didn't know it and I had just read it," Reid said. "It was not the first time someone was dumbfounded by Byrd's knowledge, and it wasn't the last."

Reid praised Byrd's undying quest for knowledge, love of the government and remembered his warnings about the hazards that would weaken the government.

"He taught me to carry in my pocket the Constitution," Reid said. "He always kept that charter so close to his heart because he loved this country."

When the founders imagined what the leaders who would represent the people would be, Reid said he thought "they had the senior senator from West Virginia in mind."

[Posted at 12:31 p.m.] Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi recalled Sen. Byrd's long line of work that began in the House of Representatives.

Pelosi said he joked when he moved on to the Senate, he was happy to move past the time limitations in the House. She remembered his warm spirit, and love for home - including a time he once took out his fiddle and played songs for her.

Pelosi, among others, said it wouldn't be more fitting to be putting the late Senator to rest on the holiday where our nation remembers its independence and celebrates its patriots.

"We will never see his like again," Pelosi said.

[Posted at 12:24 p.m.] West Virginia Congressman Nick Joe Rahall said Sen. Byrd has paved the way and path to the future for the people of West Virginia.

"I never really thought he'd die," Rahall said. "It's inexplicably difficult to say goodbye."

Rahall, who has worked with Byrd for 40 years, said Byrd never stopped learning in all his years and for many people he became their go-to person for knowledge

He talked about Byrd's passions for helping those who needed it and his love of the Constitution - which he believed to be the breathing heart of the nation.

"He may not have been a founding father but this adopted son of a coal miner would have been right at home among them," Rahall said.

Rahall said while he was comfortable enough that he could dine with kings and queens - or scold presidents of the United States, which drew laughter - he was most comfortable doing things much more simple.

"My friends ,where he was most comfortable,that was either in my parents home or in your home," Rahall said.

[Posted at 12:12 p.m.] U.S. Sen. John D Rockefeller IV said it was in Sen. Robert Byrd's blood to help the people he knew needed it.

"Every day I intimately witnessed that Sen. Byrd never forgot where he came from and he never let up, even when his heart was broken," Rockefeller said.

Rockefeller said watching Byrd hurt, when his wife and other family members died, was horrible because the pain was so obvious.

"Sometimes he would take my hand, ever so gently and press it and hold it against his cheek," Rockefeller said.

[Posted at 12:12 p.m.] Victoria Kennedy, the wife of the late U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy , called Sen. Byrd "a giant in the history of the senate and a giant in the history of West Virginia"

Kennedy said her husband and Byrd were "briefly foes, [but] they became the best of friends."

"They came together to keep America's promise," Kennedy said.

Victoria Kennedy remembered the moment Byrd cast the deciding vote for the health care bill her husband fought so fiercely wanted.

"Tears flowed down my cheeks when he said 'Mr. President this is for my friend Ted Kennedy," she said.

Kennedy remembered her husband's awe of Sen. Byrd during watching him campaign and work on the Senate floor.

"I'm not sure Sen. Byrd would have put it this way, but he was a rock star," she said.

She spoke of how he made history in the Senate that no other person ever had, through his dedication to service and the people of his state.

"Someone will take Robert Byrd's seat but nobody will ever take his place," she said.

[Posted at 12:07 p.m.] Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell praised Sen. Robert Byrd as a man who held colleagues "spellbound" by his knowledge, who started out with a hard life, but proved "the American promise" is alive everywhere.

"He was the ultimate self-made man," McConnell said. "You might say he was a walking argument for home-schooling."

McConnell said he wore the poverty of his childhood like a badge on his chest, showing that with the strongest determination you could end up in an ultimate leadership position.

"When I am dead and am opened they will find West Virginia written on my heart," McConnell recalled Byrd once saying.

[Posted at 11:55 a.m.] West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin addressed the crowd at the state memorial for Sen. Robert Byrd, welcoming President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, former President Bill Clinton and several other politicians to the service.

"We mourn the loss of our son of West Virginia," Manchin said. "The likes of who we will probably never see again."

Manchin recalled his first meeting with Byrd when his grandfather was talking with Byrd about bible and business and the kind man he was when he worked as a butcher.

"It would be impossible to stand here and recall all that our beloved senator did for you and me," Manchin said. "We will remember his commitment to transforming our economy."

The governor spoke about how Byrd epitomized the "spirit of West Virginia" and never forgot where he came from.

"Nor did he ever forget the hard-working, salt-of-the-Earth people of West Virginia," Manchin said, saying that the state started as a blank canvas that was transformed by Byrd's work. "Sen. Byrd made it his mission to transform those barren lands."

Manchin said nobody would be able to fill Byrd's shoes, but his memory would live in the people of West Virginia's hearts forever.

[Posted at 11:53 a.m.] "Our mountains weep today and our rivers run salt with the tears," Bishop William Boyd Grove said at the beginning of the memorial to Sen. Byrd. "Our senator, our advocate, our brother and our friend has left us to be with Erma and with you. But through our tears we smile as this beautiful day smiles upon the grieving mountains and rivers and people of West Virginia."

[Posted at 11:44 a.m.] Members of the West Virginia National Guard Honor Cordon opened the memorial service by leading a procession with the casket of Sen. Robert Byrd, which was draped in the flag of the state of West Virginia.

[Posted at 11:39 a.m.] President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton have joined mourners to celebrate the life of Sen. Robert Byrd in West Virginia.

[Posted at 11:07 a.m.] President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton are among the mourners who plan to attend a memorial service in West Virginia for Sen. Robert Byrd, who was the longest-serving member of Congress. The memorial service is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. ET.

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. minnehonk

    Joe Biden, besides "elevating the senate' Byrd probably elevated a few blacks too........with a rope!

    July 16, 2010 at 10:34 am | Report abuse |
  2. Katherine Campbell

    i was home schooled too but i would still prefer regular schools.",'

    July 22, 2010 at 9:35 pm | Report abuse |
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    i was home schooled and it is quite satisfactory when providing basic education';`

    September 9, 2010 at 10:38 am | Report abuse |
  4. Thermal Imaging :

    my kids are home schooled and they are always performing well in class during their High School years.,:

    October 23, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
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    i was home schooled when i was still very young and i have to stay that it is also a great way to educate your kids ~:-

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