WYNNONA B. KIRK AND ADRIAN J. O’CONNOR
A few days from Watergate’s inevitable climax, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller summoned a select group of senators to the White House. His intent: to seek their assistance in asking embattled President Richard Nixon to resign.
One of those senators was Harry F. Byrd Jr., I-Va., a resident of Winchester and president and publisher of The Winchester Star.
Though this visit to the White House must be viewed in a negative vein, it spoke volumes to the stature of Harry Byrd and the esteem in which he was held. To be selected to such a small group at such a vital juncture of our nation’s history casts Sen. Byrd in an edifying but also unique light.
Roughly a decade later, another group gathered, this time in Winchester. Harry F. Byrd Jr. was the man answering the door rather than knocking on it. A contingent from Shenandoah University, eager to start a new business school, met with Sen. Byrd to gain his imprimatur, but most of all, his permission to affix his name to the school.
One of the signatories of this letter — Wynnona Kirk, longtime administrative assistant to Sen. Byrd — distinctly recalls hearing that Sen. Byrd raised the subject of the Byrd political legacy — the full spectrum of that legacy, namely the political organization’s pursuit of Massive Resistance and defense of desegregated schools. He warned them that the subject was liable, or about certain, to come up, were he associated with the school.
But the SU powers that be were undeterred, and the senator’s name adorned the building — fitting, of course, as he was far more a watchdog of the Treasury (witness his Automatic Income Reduction Act, passed when he was a state senator, which guaranteed a tax rebate whenever the state general fund surplus exceeded certain levels; that was Harry F. Byrd Jr.) — than he ever was a cultural warrior.
Nonetheless, earlier this year, the SU trustees — some of whom attended that meeting back in the ’80s — unanimously opted to conflate the younger senator with his father and remove his name from the business school in the wake of the latest social and political unrest. So the senator’s prophecy came true. And a great man was unjustly maligned. For shame.
Today, on the seventh anniversary of the senator’s death, we the undersigned choose to remember this man we respected and cherished much as we always do — by paying our respects at his grave in Mt. Hebron Cemetery. The final resting place of a genuine son of Virginia, an unstinting public servant, and an authentic American patriot.
“Our” senator, the senator, merits no less.