Bill Nelson got something Wednesday that doesn’t happen very often these days in the U.S. Senate.
Most Senate speeches are delivered to a largely empty chamber, but a few dozen colleagues turned up to hear and applaud Nelson’s final address, in which the outgoing senior senator from Florida reflected on many different aspects of his life and career in elected office that began in 1972.
“When it comes down to it I’m just a country boy who loves serving my state and my country for all of my life,” Nelson said at the end of his speech. “It’s been an incredible honor.”
With that, the chamber erupted in applause.
Nelson began his remarks by sharing a story about his first floor speech in 2001. He waited a few months after being sworn in to formally speak, out of deference to his more senior colleagues, and spoke in front of an empty chamber. By the time he finished, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in history, heard Nelson was in the midst of making his maiden speech and made his way to the chamber. He followed Nelson with a 30-minute oration about the history of first speeches in Congress’ upper chamber.
“You can imagine, nothing I said was memorable, but it was certainly memorable to this senator that all the sudden I would be treated to the corporate knowledge of one of the lions of the Senate in looking back at the history of this body,” Nelson said.
Nelson then went into a detailed description about how he became an original “Florida boy,” with Florida roots that date back to 1829, 16 years before Florida became a U.S. state.