Lawmakers Pay Respects To Sen. Robert Byrd Late Senator Robert C. Byrd lay in repose on Thursday in the Senate chamber, where members of the House and Senate paid their respects. President Obama and Vice President Biden will attend a memorial service for Byrd in West Virginia on Friday.
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Lawmakers Pay Respects To Sen. Robert Byrd

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Lawmakers Pay Respects To Sen. Robert Byrd

Lawmakers Pay Respects To Sen. Robert Byrd

Lawmakers Pay Respects To Sen. Robert Byrd

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Late Senator Robert C. Byrd lay in repose on Thursday in the Senate chamber, where members of the House and Senate paid their respects. President Obama and Vice President Biden will attend a memorial service for Byrd in West Virginia on Friday.

(Soundbite of music)

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

Senator Robert C. Byrd went home last night. His casket was flown to Charleston, West Virginia, for today's public memorial service. President Obama and Vice President Biden are attending. Yesterday, Byrd made his last visit to the Senate chamber, where his body lay in repose in a flag-draped casket. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.

ANDREA SEABROOK: A military honor guard escorted Robert Byrd into the capital for the last time.

Unidentified Man: Right. Step. Forward. March.

SEABROOK: His casket was placed before the Senate dais - an altar of American politics and the place Byrd spent 51 years serving. His wooden desk was draped in black velvet, and set upon that, a bowl of white roses. Members of Congress and staff streamed through the Senate chamber paying last respects to America's longest serving senator and the family he left behind.

Outside in the hallways, his colleagues remembered him with stories. Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd sat next to Byrd for decades.

Senator CHRIS DODD (Democrat, Connecticut): It's like four PhDs, you know, sitting next to him.

SEABROOK: Out of his pocket, Dodd pulled a well-worn dog-eared copy of the constitution. The one Byrd inscribed to him some 25 years ago.

Senator DODD: Yeah, I got to get another one, I think, pretty soon. I ought to put this one away.

SEABROOK: What's it say?

Senator DODD: To my friend, Chris Dodd, with great personal esteem, Robert C. Byrd.

SEABROOK: Byrd had a photographic memory, said New Jersey Congressman Rush Holt. He would recognize a person in a crowd, someone he hadn't seen in years, and remember their name, details about their life. Byrd took care to shepherd new senators through process and decorum. He was a great champion of calm deliberation, said Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski.

Senator BARBARA MIKULSKI (Democrat, Maryland): He wanted us to be able to think things over and to rise above partisanship and focus more on citizenship.

SEABROOK: His words on the floor were often thoughtful and powerful, said Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Senator DICK DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): He, of course, would give his speech on the rights of spring and Mother's Day and things that would now be viewed as old-fashioned and quaint. And thank god he kept that alive. Nobody could step into those shoes.

SEABROOK: And many spoke of the long love between Byrd and the other senate great who died less than a year ago - Ted Kennedy. Every year on Byrd and his wife Irma's wedding anniversary, Senator Kennedy would personally carry a big bucket of roses into Byrd's office, says Durbin.

Senator DURBIN: A rose for every year, and that got to be a pretty big bucket over the years.

SEABROOK: When Kennedy died last summer, Byrd gave this speech on the Senate floor.

Senator ROBERT C. BYRD (Democrat, West Virginia): My thoughts and my humble prayers are with Senator Kennedy, my dear friend Ted. I love you and I miss you.

SEABROOK: Now they are both gone. But the Capitol is a place full of echoes and whispers, where the words of America's great statesmen hang in the air, never forgotten. There is no doubt that Senator Robert C. Byrd's mark will always be found on the United States' senate.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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KELLY: This is NPR News.

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