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Harry Byrd Jr., oldest former U.S. senator, dies at 98

US Capitol
US Capitol

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The oldest former U.S. senator, Harry Byrd Jr., whose family had deep ties to newspaper publishing in his home state of Virginia, died on Tuesday at age 98.

Byrd died at his home in Winchester, according to an obituary in the Winchester Star newspaper, which is now run by his son.

Byrd, a conservative Democrat who entered Congress in 1965 to fill the Senate seat his father had held for more than three decades, later won re-election as an independent after breaking with the Democratic Party. He retired from Congress in 1983.

"A chapter of our history has concluded," Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who visited Byrd several times in recent years, said in a statement.

A newspaper publisher before he entered public life, Byrd also was a vice president of The Associated Press.

"While most recognized for his political life, his first love was the newspaper business, focusing on it more than the family's other business — apples," the Winchester Star reported.

Byrd also served in World War II, rising to the rank of lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy.

In a profile that ran weeks before Byrd's retirement following three terms in Congress, the Washington Post noted his political career fell largely in the shadow of his father.

"For most of his 35 years in public life he remained Little Harry, a follower and a listener, a courtly, soft-spoken Virginia gentleman who has been content to take a back seat on most of the major issues of his day," the newspaper said.

Both men resisted racial integration in Virginia, although the younger Byrd "never played a leading role," it said.

In the Senate "his most notable accomplishments were a bill restoring citizenship to Robert E. Lee and an amendment lifting the ban on chrome imports from the white-supremacist government in Rhodesia," the newspaper said.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Christopher Wilson and Bill Trott)

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