Robert Carlyle Byrd (born Cornelius Calvin Sale Jr.; November 20, 1917 – June 28, 2010) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from West Virginia for over 51 years, from 1959 until his death in 2010.
A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd previously served as a U.S.
Representative from 1953 until 1959.
He is the longest-serving U.S.
Senator in history, the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress, a record later surpassed by Representative John Dingell of Michigan; the last remaining member of the U.S.
Senate to have served during the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower; and the last remaining member of Congress to have served during the presidency of Harry S.
Byrd is also the only West Virginian to have served in both chambers of the state legislature and both chambers of Congress.Byrd served in the West Virginia House of Delegates from 1947 to 1950, and the West Virginia State Senate from 1950 to 1952.
Initially elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1952, Byrd served there for six years before being elected to the Senate in 1958.
He rose to become one of the Senate's most powerful members, serving as secretary of the Senate Democratic Caucus from 1967 to 1971 and—after defeating his longtime colleague, Ted Kennedy—as Senate Majority Whip from 1971 to 1977.
Over the next three decades, Byrd led the Democratic caucus in numerous roles depending on whether his party held control of the Senate, including Senate Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader, President pro tempore of the United States Senate and President pro tempore emeritus.
As President pro tempore—a position he held four times in his career—he was third in the line of presidential succession, after the Vice President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Serving three different tenures as Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Appropriations enabled Byrd to steer a great deal of federal money toward projects in West Virginia.
Critics derided his efforts as pork barrel spending, while Byrd argued that the many federal projects he worked to bring to West Virginia represented progress for the people of his state.
He filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, but later renounced racism and segregation, and spoke in opposition to the Iraq War.
Renowned for his knowledge of Senate precedent and parliamentary procedure, Byrd wrote a four-volume history of the Senate in later life.
Near the end of his life, Byrd was in declining health and was hospitalized several times.
He died in office on June 28, 2010 at the age of 92 and became the oldest known member of Congress to die in office.
He was buried at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.