The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd

July 6, 2010

Sen. Byrd laid to rest

Service focuses on the man away from Senate floor

WASHINGTON — As Sen. Robert C. Byrd was being laid to rest after a week of memorials, a niece eulogized him Tuesday as a person who suffered from dyslexia. The revelation surprised others in Byrd’s family, who later said they had no knowledge that the West Virginia senator suffered from the learning disability.

The 92-year-old senator, who served in Congress longer than anyone else, received a 21-gun salute as he was buried in a suburban Washington cemetery near his wife of nearly 69 years, Erma.

The final farewell focused on the man away from the institution he revered — the son of coal miners, the widowed husband, grandfather and great-grandfather who earned a college degree at 77 and learned to swim at 90.

“This is the Byrd we didn’t know,” said West Virginia Wesleyan Professor Robert Rupp. “He really was very private in his life and that would be unusual (among senators) now. He became powerful but not rich, powerful but not a celebrity.”

Byrd’s niece, Jassowyn “Jackie” Sale Hurd, told mourners gathered at Memorial Baptist Church that he once counseled her on her own dyslexia.

“He shared with me something that’s probably going to surprise you all,” she said. “He’s dyslexic, too.”

The statement stunned those who had worked with Byrd over the years. Brief interviews with more than a dozen current and former Senate staffers turned up none who saw any indication that Byrd, the author of five books and a master of the complex appropriations process, ever struggled with his ability to read.

Later Tuesday, Byrd’s family cast doubt on whether it was true.

“Perhaps he had some difficulty reading in his later years, but the family does not know of dyslexia,” said Byrd spokesman Jesse Jacobs. “They believe he was probably being consoling to her and offering her words of encouragement.”

Whether Byrd really suffered from dyslexia or was just comforting his niece, Hurd said that he inspired her to try to earn her own diploma.

“He said, ‘Jackie, I have worked so hard,”’ Hurd said in her eulogy, describing the conversation with Byrd. “’Honey, that’s what you’re going to have to do. If you can’t find anybody to help you, then you have to help yourself.”’

Grandson Eric Fatemi, an aide to the Senate Appropriations Committee that Byrd chaired, recalled how growing old in the Senate conferred a valuable longevity on his grandfather — and difficulties.

Two years, ago, Fatemi recalled, lobbyists and reporters were circulating rumors about whether Byrd was fit to continue serving as chairman of the powerful panel, and how soon he would relinquish the gavel. Byrd derided the backbiting as “gossip,” but he announced in November 2008 that he would step down.

“It was the correct decision, but it was not easy for this proud man to make,” Fatemi said.

On the other hand, Byrd was able to quiz his grandson on American history for some four decades, from Fatemi’s childhood up until the last time the two saw each other, on Father’s Day.

Byrd asked: Who discovered America? Christopher Columbus, Fatemi said he answered. Byrd asked if his grandson remembered that question from years ago.

“How could I forget,” Fatemi said. Byrd used to pay a quarter for the correct answer, Fatemi’s first brush with “the awesome power of the appropriations process.”

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Remembering Senator Robert C. Byrd
  • 8ByrdFuneral Sen. Byrd laid to rest

    As Sen. Robert C. Byrd was being laid to rest after a week of memorials, a niece eulogized him Tuesday as a person who suffered from dyslexia. The revelation surprised others in Byrd’s family, who later said they had no knowledge that the West Virginia senator suffered from the learning disability.

    July 6, 2010 2 Photos 1 Slideshow

  • SLIDESHOWS - Senator Robert C. Byrd

     

    Click HERE to see a slideshow of Byrd's casket being placed in the Senate chamber Thursday morning.

    Click HERE to see a slideshow of preparations before Byrd's arrival in Charleston.

    Click HERE to see a slideshow of Byrd's last visit to West Virginia.

    Click HERE to see a slideshow of Byrd's funeral in Arlington, Va.

    July 1, 2010 4 Slideshows

  • byrd1 Robert C. Byrd Memorialized

    Eulogies flowed freely and abundantly Friday like the megabucks he delivered to his adopted and beloved West Virginia in a tribute that ushered in the big league players of politics to pay respects to Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    July 3, 2010 3 Photos

  • ByrdFriMem5 Obama, others attend service honoring Byrd in Charleston

    President Barack Obama and thousands of ordinary West Virginians honored the late Robert C. Byrd at a memorial service in the late senator’s home state Friday.

    July 2, 2010 8 Photos

  • byrd4A,jpg Saying goodbye

    July 2, 2010 1 Photo

  • Byrd 1a1 Senator Byrd makes final visit to state

    Hundreds of mourners lined the streets leading to West Virginia’s state Capitol on Thursday night to say goodbye to Robert C. Byrd, the nation’s longest-serving U.S. senator.

    July 2, 2010 13 Photos 1 Slideshow

  • Byrd 1a2 Thousands pay respects at Capitol

    The lights were out on the Capitol’s dome Thursday night as thousands came to show their respect for a man who gave an immeasurable amount to the state he loved — Sen. Robert C. Byrd.

    July 2, 2010 1 Photo 1 Slideshow

  • Byrd succession status remains question mark

    Questions surrounding his successor abound in the wake of Sen. Robert C. Byrd’s death, and one key aspect remains under a cloud of uncertainty — a potential move to alter West Virginia law for a special election this year.

    July 2, 2010

  • byrdfans.jpg Alumni group remembers Byrd as politician, friend

    July 2, 2010 2 Photos

  • Moore once considered race against Byrd

    July 2, 2010

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