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Remembering a legend

June 28, 2010 - Bill Speer

I sat at my desk furiously pounding out the final sentences to a story I was writing. In the background I head the groans of the ancient elevator that visitors traveled up from the lobby to the newsroom, but I didn't give it much a thought. After all, the groans never ended as visitors went up and down all day long.

What happened next was a moment I'll never forget. I can only liken it to the attention a princess, queen or king might command. Out from the elevator emerged U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia and immediately he began shaking hands, passed along greetings and shared stories of what was happening in Washington, D.C.

For a cub reporter in his first month on the job at a newspaper in Wheeling, W.Va., it was as if a rock star had just entered the newsroom. Quickly a crowd surrounded the senator as he made his way around the office greeting each employee. When he came to my desk he smiled, introduced himself, and shook my hand before moving on to the next desk. It was a moment that seemed surreal at the time.

After 10 minutes of this"meet and greet" he was locked in the editor's office behind closed doors, and didn't emerge from there for quite some time later.

I soon learned this was not a chance meeting that I had just been part of but rather a regular occurence that happened everytime Byrd visited Wheeling. As time went on I learned those visits usually occurred several times each year and thus, the senator got  to know the names of employees and was rather good at recalling those names on the visits.

In today's political climate I can understand citizens being frustrated with most of the legislators they have to deal with with in Washington, D.C.

However, I would never classify Byrd as a legislator, nor a politician. From my vantage I always  viewed Byrd as a statesman, a man who understood the importance of compromise, of working both sides of the aisles of Congress and a man from whom a handshake was more valuable that a signature on paper.

Robert Byrd was far from perfect. Most of us are. He admitted publicly his faults, his shortcomings, and worked tirelessly to make right his wrongs.

Since that day I have met many legislators and politicians. Yet I honestly can say I have met few statesmen. Robert Byrd was a special man who I never will forget.  


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