Byrd, Robert C(arlyle) 1917–

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Byrd, Robert C(arlyle) 1917–

PERSONAL: Born Cornelius Calvin Sale, Jr., November 20, 1917, in North Wilkesboro, NC; son of Cornelius Sale and Ada (Kirby) Byrd; married Erma Ora James, May 29, 1937; children: Mona Carole, Marjorie Ellen. Education: Attended Beckley College, Concord Colledge, and Morris Harvey Colldge, 1950–51; American University, J.D. (cum laude), 1963; Marshall University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1994. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES: Home—Sophia, WV. Office—311 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510; 300 Virginia St., Ste. 2630, Charleston, WV 25301. Agent—c/o Author Mail, W. W. Norton & Co., Inc., 500 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10110. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Worked variously as a gas station attendant, produce salesman, meat cutter, and welder; elected to West Virginia House of Delegates, 1947–50; elected to West Virginia Senate, 1951–52; elected to U.S. House of Representatives representing Sixth District, 1953–58; elected to U.S. Senate representing WV, 1959–, secretary of the Democratic conference, 1967, Democratic whip, 1971–77, Democratic leader, 1977–88, majority leader, 1977–80 and 1987–88, minority leader, 1981–86, president pro tempore, 1989–95, 2001–03.

MEMBER: Country Music Association (honorary), Masons (33rd degree).

AWARDS, HONORS: Named Most Influential Member of U.S. Senate, U.S. News & World Report, 1979; service award, Radio and Television News Directors Association, 1986; named Legislator of the Year, National Coal Association, 1986; named West Virginian of the Twentieth Century, 2001. Robert C. Byrd Scholarship Program (federally funded merit-scholarship program for high school seniors) named in Byrd's honor; more than twenty-nine places named in Byrd's honor, including buildings, roads, parks, laboratories, educational institutions, and community centers.


The INF Treaty and the Future of the Alliance: Report, U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC), 1988.

The Senate, 1789–1989, four volumes, foreword by William E. Leuchtenburg, edited by Mary Sharon Hall, U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC), 1988–95

The Senate of the Roman Republic: Addresses on the History of Roman Constitutionalism, U.S. Government Printing Office (Washington, DC), 1995.

Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, W. W. Norton (New York, NY), 2004.

Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields (autobiography), West Virginia University Press (Morgantown, WV), 2005.

Contributor to, and author, with others, of U.S. government publications. Contributor to professional journals.

SIDELIGHTS: U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1952 and the U.S. Senate in 1958, where he has continued into the twenty-first century to represent the State of West Virginia. Only two other members of Congress have had a longer tenure, and in 2004, with the retirement of Strom Thurmond, Byrd became the oldest serving senator. He serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee and was twice its chairman. He was also twice elected president pro tempore of the Senate, which placed him third in line of succession to the presidency. With 17,000 votes cast, he holds the record in the U.S. Senate, and he has held more leadership positions than any senator of either party in the history of the Senate. Byrd has carried all fifty-five West Virginia counties several times, and in the 2000 election, he carried all but seven of the state's 1,970 precincts.

Byrd's autobiography, Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields, is a memoir of his life from boyhood. Byrd reveals that with the death of his mother he became a virtual orphan at the age of one. An uncle and aunt raised him as their own, and he grew up in the bituminous coalfield towns of West Virginia. He graduated valedictorian of his high school class during the Great Depression. Byrd worked at whatever jobs were available, gaining life experiences and skills. During World War II, he was a welder in the shipyards of Baltimore, Maryland and Tampa, Florida. After the war, he returned to West Virginia and made his first run for political office. He served his state, first in the House of Delegates, then the West Virginia Senate before making his bid for the U.S. House of Representatives. As a young man, he briefly belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, and he opposed the Civil Rights bill in 1964, actions he later stated he regretted. Byrd took night classes while serving in the U.S. Senate and earned his law degree in 1963. It was the first time a sitting member of Congress had begun and completed the courses leading to a law degree while serving. Byrd also was awarded a B.A. in political science in 1994. He is married to his high school sweetheart, the former Ada Kirby. They have two daughters, six grandchildren, and several great-grandchildren.

As an orator, Byrd has often spoken on behalf of the U.S. Senate on occasions of note, such as upon the death of President John F. Kennedy and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, and as an emissary in promoting President Jimmy Carter's Middle East peace treaty. While his influence wanned over the years as Byrd assumed the role of elder statesman, he attracted media attention by his outspoken opposition to President George W. Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq. "Suddenly, this lion in winter who confessed that he had been wrong to support the Vietnam War, this man of rage who accused the Bush administration of arrogant disregard for the public will, this senior senator who carried a worn copy of the Constitution in his breast pocket at all times, was a favorite of young war protesters," wrote Johanna Neumann in the Los Angeles Times. Byrd, who served under eleven presidents, considers Bush the most dangerous. In his book Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, he lambastes President Bush for taking the country to war, as well as for promoting fiscal policy that Byrd characterizes, along partisan lines, as comprising tax cuts for the wealthy. Speaking to Neuman, he said, "Paul Revere woke up Concord. I hope I can wake up some people in this country and that I would lend strength to those in Congress today and in the future who may have to make a similar decision to go to war."

Washington Post Book World contributor Sidney M. Milkis noted that Byrd "reserves his harshest jeremiad for the Bush administration's rush to war with Iraq. His contempt for the Bush doctrines of 'preemption' and 'regime change' is joined to a scathing indictment of Congress's swift enactment of the Iraqi Resolution, which delegated to the president the sole decision to go to war and determine its scope and duration." Milkis added that "Byrd is no longer so lonely—his prophesies about the Iraqi War have hit home not only for most Democrats but also for a growing number of discontented Republicans."



Byrd, Robert C., Robert C. Byrd: Child of the Appalachian Coalfields, West Virginia University Press (Morgantown, WV), 2005.


Booklist, May 15, 2004, Jay Freeman, review of Losing America: Confronting a Reckless and Arrogant Presidency, p. 1578.

Boston Globe, August 4, 2004, David Mehegan, review of Losing America, p. D1.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2004, review of Losing America, p. 427.

Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2004, Johanna Neuman, review of Losing America, p. E1.

New York Times Book Review, September 12, 2004, Timothy Noah, review of Losing America, p. 24.

Publishers Weekly, May 10, 2004, review of Losing America, p. 45.

Washington Post Book World, July 18, 2004, Sidney M. Milkis, review of Losing America, p. T2.


U.S. Senate Web site, (February 3, 2005), "Robert C. Byrd."