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Byrd dedicates med center

April 30, 2006|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.VA.

"She knows about this," U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd said Saturday after a ceremony dedicating a medical education center to his late wife, Erma. "She's in heaven today and she knows."

He had just finished addressing a rapt crowd at the Erma Byrd Health Professions Education Center, on the campus of City Hospital in Martinsburg, and he was shaking a long, waiting line of hands.

The education center is the Eastern Division headquarters for the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center, which is part of West Virginia University.

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When Erma Ora James Byrd died March 25, she and her husband were two months shy of their 69th wedding anniversary.

Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., told the crowd his wife was "God's greatest gift to me."

In a hushed tone, he continued: "That coal miner's daughter. Erma. Erma ... She believed in the people of West Virginia. She believed in them. She believed in you - each of you."

Byrd - who is running this year for a ninth six-year Senate term - reminded the audience that he secured almost $6.5 million in federal money to build the education center.

Byrd, 88, has one Democratic opponent this year, according to the West Virginia Secretary of State's Web site. Six people filed to run for the Republican nomination.

Asked after the ceremony if he was looking forward to another campaign, Byrd said, "I've been doing it a long time. I like it."

Medical students in white lab coats took visitors on tours of the building after the ceremony, showing off spotless classrooms and a room that will be turned into a library.

The 36,650-square-foot education center also has a computer lab, a student lounge and several meeting rooms.

W. Harley Miller Contractors Inc. started building it in 2004 and finished it last month, according to a West Virginia University fact sheet. The second floor remains empty.

West Virginia University's Eastern Division "provides community-based education in the health sciences" in Berkeley, Jefferson, Morgan and six other counties, according to the university.

This school year, the division has 26 medical students, about 50 pharmacy students rotating in and out of the Eastern Panhandle and 12 medical residents at a rural family medicine program in Harpers Ferry, the university said.

Dr. C.H. Mitch Jacques, the dean and associate vice president of the Robert C. Byrd Health Sciences Center's Eastern Division, said during the ceremony that the program gives "opportunities and careers" to students and ensures better health care for the public.

City Hospital and Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., also are affiliated with West Virginia University.

Byrd, whose name is attached to numerous buildings and public works projects, said in an interview after the ceremony this was not the first time his wife was honored this way.

According to Byrd's Senate Web site, Erma Byrd's name is part of a garden at Davis & Elkins College, a Center for Educational Technologies at Wheeling Jesuit University and a gallery at the University of Charleston.

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