WASHINGTON (CN) – Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving member of the Senate, will be buried Tuesday in an Arlington cemetery in a private ceremony. “He was my friend,” President Obama said during a memorial service Friday. “That’s how I’ll remember him.”
Byrd, a Democratic senator from West Virginia and the longest-serving member of Congress, was elected to the House of Representatives in 1952 and to the Senate in 1958.
Byrd never lost an election, and his career stretched over the terms of 11 presidents. He cast 19,000 votes over the course of his career. He earned a law degree in 1963 from American University while sitting as a congressman.
Before his death, Byrd was president pro tem of the Senate, the legislative body’s highest-ranking senator.
Last week, Byrd’s body lay in repose in the Senate chamber, the first senator to be honored in this way for more than 50 years. Byrd was then flown to Charleston, W.Va., where he lay in repose at the West Virginia State Capitol.
At a memorial service on the steps of the State Capitol Friday, Vice President Joe Biden called the Senate chamber Byrd’s “cathedral” and said the late senator “elevated the Senate.”
“I always wear a flag pin,” Biden said, “but I was afraid he’d be looking down today because every time I’d wear the flag pin on the floor, he would grab me, take my pin, and put on a Constitution pin. That’s the pin I’m wearing. So, Boss, I’m wearing the pin,” he said to applause.
During his eulogy, Obama said Byrd carried the Constitution tucked in his pocket. “Determined to make the most of every last breath, the distinguished gentleman from West Virginia could be found at his desk until the very end, doing the people’s business, delivering soul-stirring speeches, a hint of the Appalachians in his voice, stabbing the air with his finger, fiery as ever, years into his 10th decade,” Obama said.
Biden quoted Byrd as saying, “As long as there is a forum in which questions can be asked by men and women who do not stand in awe of a chief executive, and one can speak as long as one’s feet will allow one to stand, the liberties of the American people will be secure.”
Byrd was associated with the KKK early in his career and apologized for the involvement throughout the rest of his life. “I know now I was wrong,” Byrd said in 2005, quoted in a Washington Post article. “Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized a thousand times … and I don’t mind apologizing over and over again. I can’t erase what happened.”
Byrd will be buried next to his late wife, Erma.
Byrd died on June 28 at the age of 92 in a hospital in Fairfax, Va.