July 1st, 2010
06:38 PM ET
8 years ago

Byrd's Senate goodbye

ALT TEXT Sen. Robert Byrd's casket in the Senate chamber. (PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images)

Washington (CNN) - When a military honor guard carried Sen. Robert Byrd's coffin into his beloved Senate chamber there were no television cameras allowed in to record the solemn proceeding. A single still photographer was permitted to take photographs of the casket of the man who was once the nation's longest serving member of Congress lying in repose.

A small contingent of print and television reporters were able to observe from the gallery above the Senate floor.

For much of the day, lawmakers past and present filed into the chamber for a private prayer and quiet good-bye to their popular colleague who embodied the traditions of the great institution. The West Virginia Senator had served for 51 years. Byrd's immediate family sat near the honor guard-flanked casket and greeted one-by-one the many members of Byrd's Senate family.

Vice President Joe Biden, who served with Byrd for about 35 years, was there.

So was former Senator Hillary Clinton, now Secretary of State, who waited patiently in a long line before shaking hands and embracing Byrd's many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, about 25 in all.

Civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, was there, a reminder that Byrd overcame his past affiliation with the Klu Klux Klan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and GOP Leader John Boehner were there. As were former senators George McGovern, Tom Daschle, Alan Simpson, Chuck Robb, Dennis DeConcini.

After the line thinned, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia slipped into the chamber largely unnoticed. He paused briefly before the casket before spending a few minutes with the family.

Byrd was the first senator since 1959 to lie in repose in the Senate chamber. Ironically, that was the year Byrd became a senator.

The eight or so cute young children seated with the Byrd family were remarkably well behaved for the lengthy event. At one point, they discovered the secret candy drawer in the Senate and one by one took advantage. A little girl skipped by the casket with a handful of chocolate.

The ban on television cameras was something that caused consternation with the reporters who cover the Senate. Senate leaders rejected an appeal, citing the desires of the Byrd family, which wanted the event private. Byrd himself fought television coverage of the Senate for years, before relenting in 1986 after concluding the Members of the televised House were outshining his senators.

At one point, an official with the Senate Rules Committee wrote a memo offering to allow a still photographer into the chamber to take a picture of the event, but only if the Senate approved any photos that would be published. The photojournalists bristled at an attempt to censor their work and the Senate quickly withdrew its demand.

Despite the differences of opinion over coverage, the Capitol press corps was invited to make a rare trip onto the Senate floor to pay their respect to Byrd.

Shortly before 4 p.m. ET, Byrd's casket was carried down the Senate steps and he left the building he cherished for a final time.

Filed under: Robert Byrd • Senate
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. Tony, Alabama

    What a wonderful tribute to a man that overcame past mistakes and became an eloquent and staunch defender of the constitution.

    He will be missed.

    July 1, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  2. Priscilla

    God Bless Senator Byrd's family.

    July 1, 2010 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  3. shane las vegas

    Thank you for your service and RIP

    July 1, 2010 08:29 pm at 8:29 pm |