By Ray Smock
The Byrd Center was proud to have the traveling exhibit on the life of Senator Byrd on display in the Rotunda of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill during the week of Sept. 19-23. The highlight of this week was a reception for former staff members of Senator Byrd, members of the House and Senate and current staff of West Virginia’s congressional delegation and other friends and colleagues of the Byrd Center.
The reception, held in the Kennedy Caucus Room, named in honor of the Senate service of John F. Kennedy, Edward M. Kennedy, and Robert F. Kennedy, featured remarks by Senator Joe Manchin, and two members of the Byrd Center board, Dr. Richard A. Baker and Dr. Donald A. Ritchie, both holding the special title of Senate Historian Emeritus.
Senator Manchin spoke of Senator Byrd’s unique place in the political history of West Virginia, with big shoes that can never be filled. Manchin first met Senator Byrd when he was 12 years old, the same year Senator Byrd entered the Senate. Years later when Joe Manchin was governor of West Virginia, Byrd was still a giant of the Senate, he would call Governor Manchin on the phone and say “Is this my Governor? “ Manchin now holds the Senate seat once occupied by the late Senator.
Richard Baker reminded everyone of Senator Byrd’s dedication to the rules and procedures of the Senate, his insistence on proper decorum, comity, and conduct on the floor of the Senate and his dedication to the regular order of Senate business, enduring qualities that are often in low supply in recent years. Don Ritchie emphasized Byrd’s dedication to the Constitution and the powers it gives to the legislative branch of government. Both men worked closely for many years with Senator Byrd and assisted the Senator in the preparation of his monumental four-volume History of the United States Senate.
It was a special evening with many friends and colleagues who told Senator Byrd stories, studied our exhibit closely, and renewed old friendships. The historic room only added to the special quality of the evening. In this ornate room many historic events have taken place. It was on this site that the Senate investigation on the sinking of the Titanic occurred in 1912. Other key investigations that were held in this room included Teapot Dome, Organized Crime hearings, the Vietnam War hearings, Watergate, Iran Contra, and others. The stories of many of these investigations are told in the Byrd Center’s major two-volume study Congress Investigates: A Critical and Documentary History (2011).
We send our special thanks to Senators Joe Manchin and Shelly Moore Capito, who secured the permission of the Senate Rules Committee for us to hold this reception and to have our exhibit on display in such historic circumstances, back in the Senate that Senator Byrd loved so much.
We also thank our sponsors for this event: FirstEnergy Foundation, Piper Jaffray, Comcast, The U. S. Capitol Historical Society, and Erik Fatemi, Senator Byrd’s grandson and a member of our board. The expenses related to the travel of the exhibit are provided for, in part, by a major grant from the West Virginia Humanities Council.