The Sen. Byrd that you see playing his fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry is the Sen. Byrd that I remember most from my childhood. A man of energy and spunk, and a love of fiddle playing that transcended politics.

My first memory of him is him playing the Orange Blossom Special (YouTube) on the stage at the Wood County Fair. He was brilliant, with a twinkle in his eye that said he loved every minute of the challenge.

It wasn’t until after he finished that I found out the great fiddler on the stage was also my state Senator.

Robert C. Byrd served the state of West Virginia, first in the US House of Representatives from 1953 until 1958. He was elected to the United State Senate in 1958, and has served there ever since. Byrd ran for national office a total of 15 times, and never lost once.

Like many West Virginians, Sen. Byrd has always been one of my Senators, my entire lifetime. It will be odd to have someone else in that spot in the coming months.

What I’m hearing is that there will likely be an interim appointment from our Democratic governor, Joe Manchin, with a special election likely to follow. Since we had our primary in May, it’s unknown whether that will occur this year or next — that’s being debated internally at the moment, I hear. Whatever happens, it’s pretty widely known that Gov. Manchin has interest in the position, and also that Alan Mollohan has some unexpected time on his hands at the moment and has expressed some interest, as well as Rep. Shelly Moore Capito from the GOP.

Sen. Byrd’s shoes are going to be tough ones to fill, given the energy — and pork from his perch atop the Appropriations Committee — he poured into representing WV.

Through the years, various groups tried to shame Sen. Byrd by calling him the King of Pork; he wore it locally as a badge of honor.

His relish for the role of West Virginia’s benefactor was apparent during his last campaign in 2006, when his opponent mocked Byrd for calling himself “Big Daddy” for getting money to fund a biotechnology center at Marshall University.

At the party after Byrd’s resounding election victory, celebrants wore stickers that said, “Who’s Your Daddy Now?”

Byrd had his faults, certainly, including membership in the KKK and a vote against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which included a record-setting 14-hour filibuster speech against the bill, all of which he later regretted and renounced.

But while the cosmetic changes were going on, something was also happening inside the mind of Robert Byrd. Last year he spoke to C-SPAN about why he would vote differently on the Civil Rights bill today. He said, “I thought, well now suppose I were black, and my grandson and I were on the highways in the mid-hours of the morning or midnight, and I stopped at a place to get that little grandson a glass of water or to have [him] go to the restroom, and there’s a sign ‘WHITES ONLY’… black people love their grandsons as much as I love mine, and that’s not right.” George Rutherford of the West Virginia NAACP told us he believed Byrd’s metamorphosis was sincere, that his conversion was as true as Saul’s.

Thanks to a scholarship from him when I was in high school, I was able to attend Smith College. He is truly a legend in West Virginia, where you can’t go a mile without running into something that’s been named after him in pretty much every area of my state.

Whatever his faults, and they were many, he was devoted to three things in his lifetime: his family, especially his wife Erma; the great state of West Virginia; and history’s lessons of how power, politics, law and the constitution intersect. His mastery of Senate rules was legendary, but what isn’t as widely known is that he taught that history to incoming Senators for years to introduce them, informally behind the scenes, to the intersection of rule intricacies and to Senate history.

He was an outspoken champion of the balance of powers within the framework of our government. When asked how many presidents he had served under, Byrd once famously replied “‘None,’ was Mr. Byrd’s reply, Mr. Sarbanes said. ‘I have served with presidents, not under them.’”

Rest in peace, Sen. Byrd.

The Sen. Byrd that you see playing his fiddle at the Grand Ole Opry is the Sen. Byrd that I remember most from my childhood. A man of energy and spunk, and a love of fiddle playing that transcended politics.

My first memory of him is him playing the Orange Blossom Special (YouTube) on the stage at the Wood County Fair. He was brilliant, with a twinkle in his eye that said he loved every minute of the challenge.

It wasn’t until after he finished that I found out the great fiddler on the stage was also my state Senator.

Robert C. Byrd served the state of West Virginia, first in the US House of Representatives from 1953 until 1958. He was elected to the United State Senate in 1958, and has served there ever since. Byrd ran for national office a total of 15 times, and never lost once. (more…)

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com