Posted by: morgan1965 | June 30, 2010

A Tribute to Senator Robert C. Byrd

Perhaps the most significant tribute to Senator Byrd would be the simple words, “thank you.” West Virginia residents and nonresidents, indeed all Americans, can say congratulations and thank you Senator Byrd for your historic tenure in the United States House and Senate. West Virginians offer thanks for the numerous funding projects that came to West Virginia. These projects created jobs and built important infrastructure within the state.

The death of Senator Byrd on Monday, June 28, 2010, at the age of 92, triggered the lowering of the flags to half mast. This is an honorable tribute; however, Senator Byrd never lowered his hopes and dreams for all West Virginians and Appalachia. He labored on behalf of our state even in the midst of illness.

It would be appropriate to list all of the funding projects that Senator Byrd brought to West Virginia; but this would be an inadequate tribute. It would be significant to catalog all of the bills that Senator Byrd sponsored and/or co-sponsored; however, this too would be an insufficient tribute. We can tout the fact that no other Senator has served in the U.S. Senate as long as he served; nonetheless, this too would be an inadequate tribute.

Let me suggest that the greatest tribute we can offer to honor Senator Byrd is not about what he did, but what he became. What he became, a Senator of all the people, is marked by his willingness to change and “embrace the future” on behalf of all the people in his beloved State of West Virginia. Let’s consider a few examples of change in his personal life and his politics.

First, Senator Byrd, was formerly a member of the Ku Klux Klan in his young adult years, but shifted his thinking as time unwound. On numerous occasions during his political career, he apologized for the errancy of this venture. With maturity and understanding, he was able to make a change, but additional change would be lodged in the future.

Second, although he renounced his membership in the Klan, Senator Byrd still embraced the stance of a segregationist when it came to the matter of civil rights. He progressed, however, from filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to voting for the act in 1968. As the years wore on, he began to affirm opportunities for ethnic minorities. It took courage to make this kind of political shift.

It can be said that Senator Byrd sought to embrace the future as he grappled with complex current political issues, such as the environment, coal, and the West Virginia economy. On December 3, 2009, Senator Byrd published an article titled, “Coal Must Embrace the Future.”

Third, Senator Byrd historically gave strong support to the Appalachian coal industry. But, he began to raise some profound and controversial questions about the coal industry. In the article cited above, He said: “Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.”

Senator Byrd, we thank you for your public service, made all the more notable by your willingness to be changed, so that you could be a champion of necessary changes in our mutual effort to embrace the future.

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Responses

  1. Thank you, Bishop Lyght, for a very fitting and poignant encomium to the late Senator Byrd.


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