Obama Eulogizes Sen. Robert Byrd under West Virginia Skies

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At a memorial service for Sen. Robert Byrd in West Virginia, regular folks and presidents alike gathered for a public celebration marked by moments of grace and humor.

Under a brilliant blue summer sky, the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia was honored and eulogized Friday for his life of service, scholarship, and dedication to the people of his home state.

In a memorial service on the grounds of the State Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., regular folks and presidents alike gathered for a public celebration marked by moments of grace and humor, and filled with remembrances of a truly unique figure in American history. Musical selections woven throughout reflected Byrd's love of music and Appalachian roots. Senator Byrd died on Monday.

President Obama called Byrd, the nation's longest-serving legislator and a fierce protector of the US Constitution, a "Senate icon" and an "elder statesman." Former President Clinton applauded his skill as a fiddler and fondly remembered being lectured by him over the line-item veto. Victoria Kennedy, the widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, recalled how Byrd and her husband were "briefly foes," but became the best of friends as they fought together for civil rights and equal rights.

IN PICTURES: Senator Robert Byrd through the years

The symbolism of having America's first black president eulogizing Byrd, a onetime member of the Ku Klux Klan, was lost on no one. Clinton was the only speaker to mention Byrd's early KKK affiliation directly. Obama alluded to it.

"We know there are things he said and things he did that he came to regret," Obama said. "I remember talking about that the first time I visited with him. He said: 'There are things I regretted in my youth; you may - you may know that.' And I said: None of us are absent some regrets, senator. That's why we enjoy and seek the grace of God."

"And as I reflect on the full sweep of his 92 years, it seems to me that his life bent towards justice," Obama said. "Like the Constitution he tucked in his pocket, like our nation itself, Robert Byrd possessed that quintessential American quality, and that is a capacity to change, a capacity to learn, a capacity to listen, a capacity to be made more perfect."

But far more important to the memory of Byrd is his legacy as a senator and a devoted West Virginian. …


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