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Byrd recalls life, looks to future

February 05, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. -

God willing, U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd told a crowd of supporters Saturday night in Martinsburg, he will be able to serve another term in Congress fighting for the way of life to which West Virginians are accustomed.

"I'm ready, as they say, to go another round," said Byrd, who has filed for re-election for a record ninth term. "Like little orphan Annie in that great musical said, I'm thinking of tomorrow, you can bet your bottom dollar."

Byrd, 88, D-W.Va., was the featured guest during the event, titled "West Virginia Serenade." Sponsored by the Berkeley County Democratic Association and held at the Apollo Civic Theatre, the event also featured performances from local and state musical groups.

Repeating himself occasionally as he read from prepared remarks, Byrd spoke about his wife, Erma, who now is an invalid, his adoptive parents and the importance of music.

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"A wise man once observed, music washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life," he said.

Byrd plays the fiddle.

He shared anecdotes from his childhood with the crowd, which often applauded.

Byrd said that in high school, he wanted to catch the eye of a fair-haired girl who was the daughter of a coal miner. Every day, Byrd would meet with a friend whose father owned a grocery store. That boy would share with Byrd his candy and gum, but Byrd did not eat it.

Instead, he said, he gave it to Erma.

"That's the way you court your girl, with another boy's bubble gum," Byrd said, addressing a man in the crowd who has been married slightly longer than Byrd.

Byrd and his wife have been married for 68 years.

Born in North Carolina, Byrd's mother died of influenza when he was about a year old. He was sent to live with his aunt and uncle in the coal fields of West Virginia.

Byrd said he has met kings, princes, presidents, governors and other dignitaries, but none compare to Titus Dalton Byrd, his uncle whom he considered a father.

He said that as a boy, he would wait for his father to walk home from the coal mine where he worked. When Byrd greeted the tall man with the black hair and red mustache, he would reach into his dinner pail and present the boy with his 5-cent cake that he had saved.

"He was the greatest man I ever knew," Byrd said, adding that he never once heard his father use the Lord's name in vain and that when he died, he did not owe anyone so much as a penny.

Byrd's first job was pumping gas at a gas station, where he earned $50 per month. He later became a butcher, and in 1946, was elected to the state House of Delegates, where he served two terms.

He spent three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives, and first was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1958. He has continuously served as a senator since.

Byrd said he still has a road map of the state from 1947, when there was not a single mile of divided, four-lane highway. Today, more than 1,000 miles of the state's roads consist of divided, four-lane highways.

There still are goals to be reached, he said.

"West Virginia has come a long way," Byrd said. "It still has a way to go. You and I, God willing, are going to work together."

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