SHEPHERDSTOWN — Robert C. Byrd, the West Virginia lawmaker whose remarkable years in Washington included working with White House leaders from Dwight Eisenhower through Barack Obama, is the subject of a just-released book by a longtime member of his inner staff.
David Corbin, whose “The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd’s Encounters with 11 United States Presidents,” debuted on Friday, is scheduled to speak on the work next week in Shepherdtown.
Corbin – a West Virginia native who spent more than two decades as a Congressional staffer, including a decade as a Byrd speech writer – will deliver a lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.
The talk, free and open to the public, will be followed by a reception and book signing.
At the time of his death in mid-2010, the 92-year-old was the longest-serving
U.S. senator in history. His years in office gave him a front-row seat for some of the past half-century’s biggest upheavals, including the Cold War, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, Nixon’s Watergate, Clinton’s impeachment and George W. Bush’s call for the war in Iraq – a stance that Byrd publicly decried.
Jim Haught, editor of The Charleston Gazette and Byrd’s press secretary when he entered the Senate in 1959, has praised Corbin’s book.
“Robert C. Byrd grew in stature remarkably over his six decades of political power [and] I watched him evolve,” Haught wrote in a review. “From his beginning as a self-described ‘rustic boob from West Virginia,’ he slowly rose to become the mighty ‘conscience of the Senate’ — one of the few brave enough to oppose George W. Bush’s unnecessary Iraq invasion. David Corbin does a superb job of telling this important American story.”
In the 388-page book, Corbin shines light on Byrd’s interactions with Presidents Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
In addition to highlighting Byrd’s relationships and influence on presidents, “Last Great” also examines Byrd’s early life, including his humble early years in southern West Virginia, his brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan, his love for the Constitution and his unique style of campaigning, which often involved playing country tunes on his fiddle at the Apple Butter Festival in Berkeley Springs and myriad community events across the Mountain State.
In interviews, Corbin has described his initial meeting with Byrd as a college student protesting the Vietnam War, a conflict that Byrd supported. Then in 1983, Corbin won a Congressional fellowship to work in Byrd’s office under the sponsorship of the American Historical Association. “I did not know what to expect … I did not know how I’d feel about working for him,” Corbin has said.
Corbin found that the portrait of Byrd as an anti-Catholic, racist hillbilly was far off the mark.
With degrees in history from Marshall University and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland, Corbin has worked as a history professor at the University of Maryland and has won state, regional and national awards for his writings.
Also the author of “Life, Work, and Rebellion in the Coal Fields: The Southern West Virginia Miners, 1880-1922,”Corbin is set to appear this weekend at the West Virginia Book Festival in Charleston.
Want to go?
What: Lecture by David Corbin, author of the new book, “The Last Great Senator: Robert C. Byrd’s Encounters with 11 United States Presidents”
Where: Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies at Shepherd University.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
How much: Free and open to the public
What else: A book-signing and reception follows the lecture. For details, go to byrdcenter.org.