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Jefferson/Jackson Dinner honors US Sen. Jay Rockefeller

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CHARLESTON, WV -

The Jefferson/Jackson Dinner Celebration, which is the West Virginia Democratic Party's annual fundraiser, traditionally welcomes a high-profile speaker.

This year was no different, with Vice President Joe Biden visiting as the keynote speaker, however the event served as more of a goodbye.

The crowd of about 1,600 all gathered to recognize the more than 50 years of public service U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has given West Virginia.

Rockefeller, 76, announced nearly a year ago he would not seek re-election in 2014.

"I have a lot of good memories of West Virginia," Biden said after recounting meetings and travels with U.S. Sen. Jennings Randolph. "Then along came Jay."

Biden said he remembered when Rockefeller ran for Senate, and he recalled people saying Rockefeller had nothing in common with West Virginians.

"They didn't know you, Jay," he said. "They forgot the reason you came to West Virginia in the first place was to help.

"You and the other great ones had one common thought: Give everybody an even shot."

West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio said this year's event was the biggest Jefferson/Jackson Dinner ever.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., introduced Biden, and spoke about Biden's upbringing in Scranton, Pa.

"I'm not trying to be a wise guy, Jay, but the passion you have for people in need, you could have been a coal miner's son," Biden said.

Biden, who served 24 years with Rockefeller in the Senate, talked about his work with several members of West Virginia's Congressional delegation. He spoke in broad, general terms about the effect Rockefeller had on national safety, and said Rockefeller consistently receives the highest compliment possible in the U.S. Senate.

"There is not a single man or woman in the Senate who does not trust Jay Rockefeller," Biden said. "Not one."

Biden said he'd had several dinners with Sen. Robert Byrd, and when the meal was complete, Byrd often brought out his fiddle.

"He'd play the John Denver song, ‘Almost Heaven, West Virginia,' and who am I to argue with Bob Byrd or Jay Rockefeller?" he said. "But when he's gone, we still have his work to do."

Before departing the stage, Biden shouted "Go, West Virginia, give me another Rockefeller."

Biden briefly reappeared after a short video chronicling Rockefeller's journey to West Virginia, first as a VISTA volunteer in 1964 in Emmons, to his time in the governor's mansion and then the U.S. Senate to embrace Rockefeller, his wife, Sharon, and his daughter, Valerie.

Valerie Rockefeller hosted a short question and answer session with her parents, as they spoke about their first impressions of the Mountain State and their proudest accomplishments.

"At that time, I learned public service was what I wanted to do," Jay Rockefeller said of his time in Emmons. "In effect, I was reborn, in a secular sense, in Emmons because of the people.

"They told me without telling me what I needed to do and that I was okay. After the first year, I knew I was going to spend my whole life."

Rockefeller said he was looking for hard work, and he found it in Emmons.

"You can't spend two years in Emmons without your heart reaching out to education, health care, jobs," he said. "Every single day since my days in Emmons, I have never changed - I've fought for the same things. They made me who I am and I love them for it. It's all about helping people and the tougher the job, the deeper the satisfaction."