Sen. Robert Byrd appeared on the Senate floor last May, slumping in a wheelchair and grieving for an old friend. On that day, Byrd learned that his "dear, dear friend," Sen. Ted Kennedy, was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.
Byrd, the longest-serving Senator in American history, was clearly shaken by the news of the illness that struck Kennedy, who had the third-longest tenure in U.S. history. As his hands shook while turning the pages of a statement, Byrd openly wept -- an emotion rarely seen on the Senate floor.
Byrd, like Kennedy, was rarely seen at the Capitol since that day. And upon hearing the news early Wednesday that Kennedy lost his battle with cancer, the 91-year-old West Virginia Democrat gave another heartfelt statement, this time on paper, which put both of their long careers in national politics into perspective.
"I had hoped and prayed that this day would never come," Byrd said. "My heart and soul weeps at the lost of my best friend in the Senate, my beloved friend, Ted Kennedy."
He said both of them "witnessed too many wars in our lives, and believed too strongly in the Constitution of the United States to allow us to go blindly into war." He went on to describe the characteristics he'll best remember Kennedy for.
"Neither years of age nor years of political combat, nor his illness, diminished the idealism and energy of this talented, imaginative, and intelligent man. And that is the kind of Senator Ted Kennedy was. Throughout his career, Senator Kennedy believed in a simple premise: that our society's greatness lies in its ability and willingness to provide for its less fortunate members. Whether striving to increase the minimum wage, ensuring that all children have medical insurance, or securing better access to higher education, Senator Kennedy always showed that he cares deeply for those whose needs exceed their political clout. Unbowed by personal setbacks or by the terrible sorrows that have fallen upon his family, his spirit continued to soar, and he continued to work as hard as ever to make his dreams a reality."
While Byrd seems far removed from the day-to-day debates over health care, a cause to which Kennedy dedicated much of his time, he called upon others to "stop the shouting and name calling and have a civilized debate" on the subject.
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At least he channeled his feelings of loss into a constructive goal, unlike Sen. Orrin Hatch who, instead of rallying around a Kennedy cause, decided to pen a song.
Hmm. Oh well.
Play us out, Keyboard Hatch: