Robert Carlyle Byrd, the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress, died early this morning at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Virginia, after being admitted the day before for what was thought to be heat stroke.
Byrd, who according to local legend was born somewhere in North Carolina sometime prior to American involvement in the First Great War, served as a member of the House of Representatives from 1953 to 1959, and had been a member of the Senate ever since, for a total of fifty-seven years in Congress. Prior to his career in the national legislature, Byrd had served as Exalted Cyclops of his local Ku Klux Klan chapter, and written a letter to Mississippi senator Theodore Bilbo in which he argued passionately in support of continuing segregation in the armed forces.
He later claimed he had joined the Klan because it opposed communism. Many years later — after he had participated in a filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — Byrd apologized and renounced his racist views. “Intolerance had no place in America,” he told the Washington Post in 2005.
Byrd also opposed President Bill Clinton’s effort to allow gays to serve openly in the military, and spoke out and voted against same-sex marriage.
During his career in Washington, D.C., Byrd steered over a billion federal tax dollars to West Virginia, creating government office buildings, parks, monuments, roads, schools and other public works projects, over thirty of which he named for himself. Beginning in 2006 Byrd took a brief sabbatical from naming federally funded projects after himself in order to name several after his recently deceased wife, Erma Ora Byrd.
Funeral details had not been finalized as of press time. The Byrd family requests, in lieu of flowers, that donations be sent to the Robert C. Byrd Foundation for the Proliferation of Public Objects Bearing the Name of Robert C. Byrd. It is expected that Byrd will be laid to rest sometime later this week in the family plot at Robert C. Byrd Memorial Cemetery, which is located off exit 3 of the Robert C. Byrd Memorial Highway in the town of Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia, in the southeastern quarter of the Robert C. Byrd Park and Recreation Area, behind the 70-foot bronze statue of Robert C. Byrd.