Sen. Robert C. Byrd made one final visit Thursday to the institution he served and loved for more than half a century, as his body lay in repose in the Senate chamber while lawmakers, friends and admirers paid their last respects.
The West Virginia Democrat, who died Monday, was the longest-serving senator in history, representing the Mountain State since 1959. Before winning his Senate seat, he served in the House for six years.
It marked the first time since the funeral of North Dakota Sen. William Langer in 1959 - Mr. Byrd's first year in the Senate - that a senator lay in repose in the chamber.
Senators began entering the chamber shortly after 10:30 a.m. to give their condolences to Mr. Byrd's family and to say goodbye to their colleague. His flag-draped casket was flanked by two Capitol Hill Police officers, while his desk - where he had delivered thousands of speeches over 51 years - was covered in black cloth and adorned with a glass bowl of white roses.
Mr. Byrd's staffers and other Senate employees filed past the casket throughout the afternoon, while tourists, Capitol workers and journalists viewed the proceedings from the gallery.
Garnet Duffy Anderson, a Maryland resident of 41 years who keeps her native West Virginia close to her heart, says she is deeply grateful for Mr. Byrd's service to her state.
"Everybody respected him deeply because he was a fine man, he was a Christian man and, of course, he always looked out for the state to see things that could be brought to the state to help the people there," Ms. Anderson said. "He brought things [to West Virginia] that otherwise would not have gone there at all, so I'm extremely grateful for him having passed our way."
Bill and Sarita Bland, visiting the Capitol with their two children, Jacob, 9, and Rebecca, 13, from California, said they deeply appreciated Mr. Byrd's dedication to the country.
"It was amazing. The tenacity he had; we loved watching him on C-SPAN or on the news," Mrs. Bland said. "He was just a character to watch."
"We were telling our kids what a great statesman he was but yet we don't even remember what party he was from, which may be a compliment because it means he's kind of above that," added Mr. Bland. "He was a statesman."
After the viewing in the Capitol, a West Virginia Air National Guard plane was scheduled to take the casket to Charleston, W.Va., where a public viewing was planned from midnight Friday through 9 a.m. in the rotunda of the West Virginia statehouse.
A formal public memorial service for Mr. Byrd is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. Friday at the West Virginia Capitol. President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. plan to attend, as well as Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Private services are scheduled for Tuesday at Columbia Gardens Cemetery in Arlington, Va., where Mr. Byrd will be buried next to his wife of almost seven decades, Erma.
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