Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Robert C. Byrd: Come Sundown She'll Be Gone

Yesterday, West Virginia lost its senior statesman Senator Robert C. Byrd when he passed away at a Washington, DC hospital. Senator Byrd was 92. My adopted home state will suffer a great loss as he was able to steer funding for infrastructure and many programs that produced jobs and helped our economy. On several occasions, I had the opportunity to meet Senator Byrd including one time where I was able to join him and others for lunch.

While I never heard him play fiddle, it was one of those talents that nearly everyone in the state was aware. Inspired by West Virginia’s Clark Kessinger, the young Byrd used his talents as a fiddler as a campaign tool to win the hearts of his future constituents as he ran for the state legislature in the late 1940s. In 1952, he ran and won a seat in the US House of Representatives and in 1958 – he was elected to the Senate, where he has served until his death yesterday. He was the longest serving member of the Senate and Congress in general. It is doubtful that this record will ever be broken.

In 1978, Byrd finally had time to record his only album “Mountain Fiddler,” which contained many Appalachian favorites. Today’s Traditional Tuesday selection is “Come Sundown She’ll be Gone,” a song written by Kris Kristofferson and a top 10 country hit for Bobby Bare in 1970.

If Byrd knew you, he would always acknowledge you in the audience while he was speaking. I have a letter he sent me in 1995 that will be part of my collection of memorabilia associated with my career. Even chapter three of my dissertation has a large section that deals with the aid that Byrd had provided for West Virginia higher education as part of the way he helped his home state. My current office is situated in a building (Wiseman Hall) that was constructed through a Byrd appropriation. From 1997 to 2000, I had an office housed in Mountain State University’s first Byrd appropriation – the Robert C. Byrd Learning Resource Center.

The author and Senator Byrd in 1995

Senator Byrd, we’ll miss you.

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