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Robert Byrd

United States Senator from West Virginia

Died when: 92 years 220 days (1111 months)
Star Sign: Scorpio

 

Robert Byrd

Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.;November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was an American lawyer and politician who served as a United States Senator from West Virginia for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010.

A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd also served as a U.S.Representative for six years, from 1953 until 1959.He remains the longest-serving U.S.

Senator in history; he was the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress until surpassed by Representative John Dingell of Michigan.

Byrd is the only West Virginian to have served in both chambers of the state legislature and in both chambers of Congress.

Byrd's political career spanned more than sixty years.He first entered the political arena by organizing and leading a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, an action he later described as "the greatest mistake [he] ever made." He then served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950, and the West Virginia State Senate from 1950 to 1952.

Initially elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952, Byrd served there for six years before being elected to the Senate in 1958.

He rose to become one of the Senate's most powerful members, serving as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1967 to 1971 and—after defeating his longtime colleague Ted Kennedy for the job—as Senate Majority Whip from 1971 to 1977.

Over the next 12 years, Byrd led the Democratic caucus as Senate Majority Leader and Senate Minority Leader.In 1989 he stepped down, following the pressure to make way for new party leadership.

As President pro tempore —a position he held four times in his career, as the longest serving senator from the Democratic Party—he was third in the line of presidential succession, after the vice president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Serving three different tenures as chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations enabled Byrd to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia.

Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending, while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state.

Although he filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War earlier in his career, Byrd's views changed considerably over the course of his life.

He completely renounced racism and segregation, and spoke in opposition to the Iraq War.Renowned for his knowledge of Senate precedent and parliamentary procedure, Byrd wrote a four-volume history of the Senate in later life.

Near the end of his life, Byrd was in declining health and was hospitalized several times.He died in office on June 28, 2010, at the age of 92 and was buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.


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