Reactions to the Life of Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr.

Posted: July 30, 2013

Below are some of the reactions that have come in about former U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Jr., who died this morning at age 98.


“Virginia and America mourn the passing of one of the most influential, respected and principled leaders of the 20th Century, Harry F. Byrd, Jr.

“I will always remember his distinctive laugh and remarkably sharp perspectives throughout his long, meaningful life. The lasting legacy of Senator Byrd is his consistent, sound and unflinching leadership in working to achieve the ideal of a wise and frugal government.

“Senator Byrd was an independent, cheerful and amazingly insightful friend. I shall treasure his encouragement and counsel through the ups and downs of public service. Indeed, we emulated Senator Byrd’s example by returning unused Senate office funds every year.

“Above all, Harry Byrd, Jr. was a gentleman of impeccable integrity in all aspects of his life.

— Former U.S. Sen. George Allen, Va.


“Harry Byrd was a true statesman and gentleman through his career.  Every member of the Senate knew that Senator Byrd always voted on the basis of what he thought was right and  best for the country.  For me he was and always will be a model of personal integrity.  His kindness as a friend was unexcelled.  Contemporary American politics desperately needs more true public servants like Harry Byrd.”

— Former U.S. Sen. David L. Boren, the current president of University of Oklahoma


“Harry Byrd came into my life the day after Election Day 1970. I was the curiosity who had been elected to the U.S. Senate as a third party candidate and he the veteran who had sought and won reelection as an Independent, and he telephoned me to welcome me into the Senate fold. That led to a close friendship with a very special human being, one whose example of independence and probity has enriched my life.

“He represented all the virtues we should expect in public office but too rarely find. Those privileged to know him will miss him deeply, and with reason: it is hard to find men of his caliber in public service any more.”

— Former U.S. Sen. James L. Buckley, N.Y.

“Harry Byrd epitomized the best in public service.  He was a good  man, respected by everyone.  We just exchanged notes a few months ago, and I was so glad to hear from him.  Barbara and I were proud to call him a friend.”

— Former President George H.W. Bush


Byrd’s fiscal philosophy — “pay your bills, maintain a AAA bond rating and have no distractions from a balanced budget” — caught the country’s attention.

“His philosophy in many ways reflected that of Virginia. It always reflected the Virginia philosophy. I don’t know which one was first: [whether] he made Virginia as wholesome as it was during his era, or if it was vice versa.

“He made Virginia a leader. It caused other states to always look up to Virginia.”

— Former state Sen. John Chichester, who served on the Senate Finance Committee for 16 years, eight as chairman.


“The most important thought that comes to my mind is that, despite the fact he was 98, God took him too early.

“He was an icon of his generation. For some people, that’s because of his political skills and power.  But, to me it’s because he was such a gentleman, and he was so generous with his time, and his wit and his warmth.

“He was always up for a good political discussion, and I really respected that he thought local events were of the utmost importance, but so were national and international events.  He had such a great balance.

“I was one of the thousands upon thousands of people who considered him to be a great friend.

“For generations to come, there will be students at Shenandoah University who will know his name and the great things he did because our business school carries his name and we talk about him.  The senator and his family are an important part of the SU community and always will be.

— Tracy Fitzsimmons, Shenandoah University president.


“Virginia lost a devoted public servant today. Senator Byrd lived a remarkable life, dedicated to serving his country and his fellow Virginians. I was fortunate to visit with Senator Byrd at his home just a few months ago.  He still took a keen interest in public policy and politics.  His mind was sharp and his advice solid, even at the age of 98.  I will long remember this visit, just as Senator Byrd’s legacy will long be remembered in the Shenandoah Valley and throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Maryellen and I extend our condolences and prayers to the Byrd family.”

— Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Va.-6th

 “I thought he was one of the best leaders Virginia had in my lifetime.”

— Ed Grimsley, a former reporter and editorial director at the Richmond Times-Dispatch,

"It was a privilege of my career to be associated with young Harry.  He will always be young Harry to me. I managed his campaign in Fairfax in the mid-60s and had the  privilege of knowing him since then.

“I will remember him as a great Virginian and a great American, committed to the ideals our country seems to have lost focus on. He was committed to a theory of moderate government, no debt, no taxes and most of all, private enterprise.

“I knew him in association with Gov. Godwin, when he left the Democratic Party and ran as an Independent and Godwin ran as a Republican.  He represented an era gone from American politics.

— John T. “Til” Hazel

“He was a kind, thoughtful and wonderful friend.  When I was born, my father sent a telegram to Harry, who had just started college.  Over the years since then he’s made a point of always remembering my birthday, which is remarkable.  That was a long time ago.

“Jack and I feel that his love of this country and his family and the commonwealth of Virginia is legendary.  This community that he loved so much is losing a patriot and a true Virginia gentleman . . . We will miss him.”

— Besty Helm, former mayor of Winchester.


“Anne and I join all Virginians in mourning the passing of Harry Byrd Jr.

“Few families have dedicated as much to our Commonwealth as the Byrds. Harry carried on that tradition as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy during World War II and an elected representative in both the Virginia legislature and the U.S. Senate.

“One of the highlights of my time as governor was hosting Harry and his adult grandchildren at the mansion where he told stories from his boyhood.

“His civil manner and commitment to public service will be missed. Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this time.

— U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Va.


“Harry was completely honest. If anything, he was probably honest to a fault.

“When he met people, he treated everybody the same. He didn’t stand on his office.”

— Former Army Secretary John O. “Jack” Marsh Jr., who serves on the board of directors of Byrd Newspapers

“This morning, Harry F. Byrd, Jr., America’s oldest living former senator, passed away at his home in Winchester. This is a sad day in the Commonwealth. A chapter of our history has concluded; we’ve lost a good and decent person and a dedicated public servant.

“Senator Byrd was a son of the Valley. He was born in Winchester. While he would go on to attend school at VMI and UVa, serve our nation in World War II, represent the area in the State Senate, and then serve three terms in Washington as a United States Senator, it was always true that in spirit and in soul, Harry F. Byrd, Jr. never left the Valley that he loved.

“Senator Byrd was an iconic figure in Virginia history. He lived through a century of immense change, both here at home and abroad, and he never sat on the sidelines. From his time in public office to his long career in journalism, Harry F. Byrd, Jr. was at the center of the great debates and policy discussions that marked our nation’s path forward. He made his mark as a strong fiscal conservative, always committed to ensuring that taxpayer dollars be wisely and conservatively utilized.

“I had the great opportunity to visit with the senator several times over the past few years at his home. His mind was sharp, and he was quick with stories from growing up in Virginia’s Executive Mansion in the 1920’s to his experiences as the first person ever elected and re-elected to the United States Senate as an independent. The senator was rightly known for his civility, candor and wit, and those attributes remained with him until the very end.

“As governor, there were a number of times I would receive a carefully handwritten letter from the senator, well into his 90’s, letting me know how he felt about legislation and policy discussions in Richmond. He lived to participate in the public discourse and he cherished democracy and civic engagement. That was the common thread that ran from his time in public office to his editorials and columns in The Winchester Star and The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record.

"Virginia will mourn the passing of Senator Harry F. Byrd, Jr.”

— Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

“I think Virginia and America are greater places for having had the services and example of Sen. Byrd.

“In a day and age where we feed on celebrity over substance, Sen. Harry Byrd was a man of substance. He knew what was important in life and he lived the principles he espoused.”

— T. Carter Melton Jr., former president and CEO of Rockingham Memorial Hospital and a former VMI board member.

“Senator Byrd was a Virginia gentleman in the best sense of the word. His life was devoted to serving his country, his state, his community, and his family. He was indeed a gentle man, who treated everyone he met with grace and dignity.”

— William C. Mims, Virginia Supreme Court Justice and son of former editor and general manager of the Daily News-Record Lathan Mims.


“It’s the end of an era. There are no more statesmen, in my opinion.

“His heart was as a Democrat. But being a Democrat in those days meant something different than it does today. . . . He worked both sides of the aisle. He was kind, gentle, but tough.

“Golly Ned, there just aren’t people around like him anymore. There’s some good people, but Sen. Byrd set the pace for everybody.”

— G. Gilmer Minor III, former chairman of Owens & Minor Inc., a Richmond-area distributor of medical and surgical supplies.



“My heart goes out to all of the members of the Byrd family. I always admired Sen. Byrd for his unwavering commitment to fiscal responsibility and I will always remember him for his gracious charm and personal rectitude.

“If ever there was a true Virginia gentleman, it was Harry F. Byrd Jr.”


— Former U.S. Sen. Charles Robb, Va.

“In my mind, I think he was the most outstanding Virginian of my generation. No one has loved Virginia and its people and its history and been any more committed to public service than Harry Byrd was.”

— Sandra Mims Rowe, former editor of The Oregonian whose father, Lathan Mims, was the editor and general manager of the Daily News-Record.

“I never heard a sniff of impropriety against him — not his personal life, his business life, his political life. That’s becoming such a rarity. We really need to celebrate [the senator].

"He was kind of the last of that generation of great Virginia gentlemen who served in public office as a matter of pure public service. Of course, being tenacious with his core principles, you couldn’t budge him.”

— former Bridgewater College President Phillip Stone

“I had the privilege of visiting with him just months ago.  The preciseness of his mind and gorgeous smile are riveted in my mind.

“We did lots of things together during the years, and he was like  big brother to me when I was a brand new senator in 1979.

“ . . . (H)e was really quietly respected and revered on both aisles of the Senate.  He was known for his deep and abiding desire to make America economically strong and plant the foundations firmly for a strong economy.  Each year he’d enter the amendment that the Congress would expend no amount of funds greater than the revenue stream.  Congress would adopt the amendment and Congress would turn right around and exercise its will and overspend the budget.”

— Former U.S. Sen. John Warner, Va.