The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 28, 2010

Local friends recall spiritual beliefs, morals, integrity, values

By Carl "Butch" Antolini
Executive Editor

BECKLEY — During his twilight years U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd spent a fair amount of time reflecting on his spiritual life with Father Thomas S. Acker; in fact, Byrd called the Jesuit priest his personal chaplain.

When the two men would get together, the last time being earlier this month, they would often pray together. It was at the core of Byrd’s beliefs, said Acker.

“He held the Bible in his heart and the Constitution in his breast pocket; they were the two creeds by which he lived,” Acker recounted on Monday morning. “If the president were the pope he ought to canonize Sen. Byrd and make him a saint of the Senate.”

Acker, who first met Byrd 27 years ago shortly after taking over as the president of Wheeling College, said during his many trips to Washington, D.C., that he found out just how revered and respected Byrd actually was.

“He was known for his absolute integrity, his moral standing and his hard work,” Acker stated. “I was on a trolley in Washington one time and another senator said to me ‘Father, who are you here to see?’ I told him Sen. Byrd and he quickly replied ‘No one works harder in this town than Robert C. Byrd.’”

While not privy to Byrd’s finances, Acker said, “I don’t think he ever invested in the stock market because he didn’t want any conflict of interest when he voted.

“He could have made millions; instead he was really just an honest, simple man.”

Acker said he is “very happy (Byrd) has passed” because “he deserves the reward God has given him.’

“And he really wanted to see Erma (his wife who died in 2006) and that wish is now fulfilled.”

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“There’s an awful lot of sadness, but he was certainly a remarkable person,” said Beckley CPA Carroll D. Simpkins when asked Monday about Byrd’s passing. “I’ve said for many years that Robert Byrd is, without peer, the single greatest political person in West Virginia’s history; no one else is even close.”

Describing Byrd as a “true phenomenon” in this day and time, Simpkins said his friend would never have had the chance to be elected if he were just entering into politics.

“The Senate has turned into a rich man’s club that he couldn’t get into today,” Simpkins added. “And one thing that Byrd’s career does to any person entering politics or even thinking about it, well they can turn and look at the bar he set. The humility alone will fall far short of what he accomplished.”

He went on to note that Byrd “wasn’t a perfect man, he had his warts” and that he spent much time in his later years “apologizing for the mistakes...like his position on the civil rights movement, his membership in the KKK and voting against Thurgood Marshall.

“But he did some marvelous things,” Simpkins said; of those he felt one of Byrd’s greatest contributions was “making the Senate live up” to its decision with regard to going to war in Iraq during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“He regretted voting for the Gulf of Tonkin during (Lyndon) Johnson’s administration because it turned out to be a manufactured incident for going into Vietnam. He saw a similar thing with Iraq.”

Simpkins says Byrd’s “priorities were always right, his loyalties were to God, his family and the Constitution of the United States.

“That’s a pretty good set of values.”