Published 10:10 pm Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Virginia flags will fly at half-staff later this week to mark the death of Harry F. Byrd Jr.
The last vestige of Virginia’s “Byrd Machine” that controlled the state’s politics throughout a good portion of the 20th century, the former senator was 98 and was America’s oldest living former senator.
Byrd, the son of a former governor, was born in Winchester and would go on to attend the Virginia Military Institute and the University of Virginia. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and represented his home area in the state Senate.
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He later served 18 years in the U.S. Senate and also had a long career in journalism, especially at The Winchester Star and The Harrisonburg Daily News-Record.
“This is a sad day in the Commonwealth,” Gov. Bob McDonnell said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “A chapter of our history has concluded; we’ve lost a good and decent person and a dedicated public servant.”
McDonnell has ordered all state flags to fly at half-staff Friday and Saturday in Byrd’s memory.
“Harry F. Byrd Jr. was at the center of the great debates and policy discussions that marked our nation’s path forward,” McDonnell added. “He made his mark as a strong fiscal conservative, always committed to ensuring that taxpayer dollars be wisely and conservatively utilized.”
Not all of Byrd’s legacy will be remembered fondly. The family was opposed to integration and fought it through a number of avenues until the courts finally put a stop to segregation and the Massive Resistance movement that shuttered many schools in Virginia during the period.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine also released a statement on Byrd’s death, saying, “few families have dedicated as much to our commonwealth as the Byrds.”
Kaine remembered one of the highlights of his time of governor was when Byrd and his grandchildren visited the governor’s mansion, where Byrd told stories of growing up in the home, when his father served as governor.
“His civil manner and commitment to public service will be missed,” Kaine said. “Our thoughts are with his family and friends during this time.”