The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd

June 28, 2010

Raleigh Countians somber, sad over loss of longtime lawmaker

SOPHIA — The overall mood was sad and somber Monday in Sophia, as residents and visitors lamented the passing of their adopted son Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

The longtime lawmaker got his start in this southern West Virginia community in the 1940s.

Prior to entering the state and national political arena, Byrd once worked as a barber, butcher and grocery store manager in this small Raleigh County town.

Richard White, 83, of Fitzpatrick Road, is a former truck driver who once delivered groceries to a store where Byrd worked in the late 1940s and early 50s.

“He was a very nice man and I thought the world of him,” White said, adding, “If you took away what he did for this state, we’d be in the Dark Ages. He deserves all the credit he can get. The state is going to miss him. If people don’t know it now, they’ll know it later.”

Similar sentiments were echoed Monday by others in the Sophia area. Richard Lilly, 58, of Midway, recalled stories he’d heard about the late senator from his forebears in Sophia.

“When my wife’s grandmother passed away in the early 1950s, Byrd was the first one to show up at the funeral home. That’s the kind of man he was. He cared about people. Byrd left a lot of history and quite a legacy behind.”

Greg McGraw, 43, of Crab Orchard, described the late senator as “the John Wayne” of politics. “He was a great American,” McGraw said. “He helped miners get their black lung benefits and he brought federal programs to the coal fields.”

Larry Martin, 56, of Coal City, recalled meeting the senator during a school field trip to Washington, D.C., in the mid-1960s.

“Sen. Byrd gave a speech to my eighth-grade social studies class,” Martin said. “He told us that God was everywhere, even in the lights in the capitol building. He gave a good account of himself. I never will forget how inspiring he was.”

Janet Quesenberry of Real Wood Unfinished Furniture in Sophia lauded the senator this way: “There is a deep sadness in Sophia. People have been coming in all morning long talking about the late senator. He was passionate about West Virginia and its people. He was always there for them.”

Anita L. Guy expressed similar feelings.

“I always had great respect for Sen. Byrd. He was a great orator and statesman,” Guy said. “He has been in the House and Senate for nearly my entire life. We will really miss him. He had a positive influence on everyone in the nation. We were blessed to have had him in the Senate.”

Pennie McGrady, 51, lauded the late senator for his commitment and contributions to the miners of the Mountain State and their families.

“He meant a lot to the people of West Virginia,” she said. “People admired him for what he did for the state. My father met him through the American Legion, and he always said Sen. Byrd stood behind the veterans and VA hospitals.”

Ron Moran, a veteran musician who makes his home at Midway, said he met Sen. Byrd at a local restaurant in Sophia recently, during one of the senator’s final visits to the community.

“I thought the world of him,” Moran said. “I met him several times. I think he came back in later years just to reminisce with his friends and family. I think he knew his time was close, even then. I gave him one of my CDs featuring some mountain music that I had recorded. He wrote me a letter telling me he played the disk on his way back to Washington.”

Moran added, “We’ll never be able to replace him. Sen. Byrd meant too much to this state for anyone else to ever fill his shoes.”

— E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net

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Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd
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