Mourners Gather in Virginia for Byrd’s Funeral

Posted July 6, 2010 at 4:16pm

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was to be buried alongside his late wife, Erma, in a Northern Virginia cemetery Tuesday, following a funeral service that paid homage to his roots in the mountains of West Virginia.

The funeral for Byrd, who died last week at the age of 92, was held at the Memorial Baptist Church in Arlington, Va. Dignitaries including Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Victoria Reggie Kennedy, wife of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), were in attendance.

Rather than focusing on the power that Byrd wielded for much of his adult life, the church’s retired pastor, the Rev. Dr. William H. Smith, focused on the late Senator’s religious upbringing in rural West Virginia.

As bluegrass music played in the background, Smith recalled the time Byrd approached him after a church service, put his arm around him and recited from memory the 10 verses before and the 10 verses after the section of Scripture that Smith had preached.

“He described himself to me as a born-again, old-time-religion, Bible-based Christian,” Smith said. “He was baptized along with Mrs. Byrd at age 19 in the Crab Orchard Baptist Church.”