William F. Buckley Jr., founder of National Review, Father of Conservatism in America, entrepreneur, is no longer with us. While I, among so many others, mourn his loss, I also celebrate his life and envy the manner of his passing.
Bill Buckley so savored the conditions and ingredients of the good life, and lived his to the hilt, that it is difficult to view his death on February 27, 2008 as anything less than a triumph of the man. He was 82.
On April 16, 2007, Bill lost his beloved wife of 63 years: Patricia, as bright and dynamic as her husband, an independent, larger-than-life force dubbed by NR editors the Mother of Conservatism. She was 80.
With the prospect of life without Pat and dealing with the enormity of his loss, Bill could also no longer enjoy many of people and activities he loved, which must have saddened him even more in his remaining months. However, that he died in declining health, suffering from emphysema and diabetes, peacefully at his desk in the study of the home he’d shared with Pat in Stamford, Connecticut…having accomplished so much as an author, publisher, entrepreneur, sportsman, and devout Catholic Christian, writing to the end…must, I suspect, have invested the moment of his death with a deep, if ironic, sense of satisfaction.
Bill Owed God Everything
He would have wanted it that way, for he was first a Christian disciple, and only secondarily, very much secondarily, well, everything else — journalist, novelist, belletrist, harpsichordist, sailor, skier, and, above all, godfather to the American conservative movement.
–William F. Buckley Jr. – a Splendid Soul
Father Raymond J. De Souza
Catholic Education Resource Center
Though a graduate of Yale (1951), as a youth Bill experienced the transformative ethos and rituals of a Catholic education, taught by Jesuit Fathers in pre-War England and at home in America.
Born November 24, 1925, in New York, William Frank Buckley Jr. was the sixth of 10 children of Aloise Steiner Buckley and William Frank Buckley Sr., a wealthy Texas oil man. Having spent his childhood in France and England, Bill attended Millbrook School, the respected New York State prep school.
From 1943 to 1944, Bill attended the University of Mexico, before serving two years as an Infantry officer in the U.S. Army, where he was among the Honor Guard at FDR’s funeral procession in Warm Springs, Georgia. After graduating from Yale with a degree in political science, history and economics, he married Canadian, Patricia Alden Austin Taylor, in 1950.
Enormously satisfying to those who survive is the sure knowledge that Bill has now rejoined Pat and his many friends and colleagues in Heaven. For as he wrote on his boat during a transatlantic sail when asked by Esquire [magazine] to name a place he had never been, but would most wish to visit, named Heaven: “Because it was there I would be most happy.” One can only imagine how that was received by the sophisticated Esquire editors!
A Man for All Seasons
In 1951, twenty-five year old Yale graduate, Bill Buckley, published his first book, the controversial God and Man at Yale. Absent this book’s widely condemned expose of his alma mater’s irresponsible attitude toward Christianity, its exorcism of religion and forcing its liberal ideology on students, one can fairly say the conservative movement as we know it would not have existed in the United States.
But as written in the Foreword to the 50th Anniversary Edition of Gamay (the publisher’s inter-office shorthand): “Soon after winning national attention with this controversial polemic, William F. Buckley Jr. deployed his youth, charm and intellect to unite a motley crew of cantankerous intellectuals into a viable conservative movement. This was less than a generation after [liberal literary critic] Lionel Trilling had opined that ‘in the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition.’” How wrong he was!
Conservatism owes at least part of its prominence to the Buckley wit and sense of humor. Here is conservative talk-show host, Michael Medved (Yale 1969), recalling how Bill Buckley transformed America’s perception of the right: “Buckley made it fun to be a conservative, changing the then-prevalent image — the image of a conservative in his time was of Bob Taft [Robert A. Taft, former Ohio Governor and U.S. Senator], an older, grouchy guy. But Buckley loved sailing, literature, life. And even people who disagreed with him on everything found him a delightful gentleman.”
“Standing Athwart History, Yelling Stop”
That arresting description of Bill Buckley’s bold political posture appeared in the first issue of National Review, November 19, 1955. Then as now, it captures the conservatism that went from being the province of red necks, old fogies and members of the John Bircher Society to become (as was its owner/editor) a refined, yet robust political force in America.
…An Entrepreneur By Necessity
At first, National Review was financed and encouraged morally and materially by Bill’s father, retired Texas oil man, William F. Buckley, Sr.; but NR soon grew beyond the scope of a family business. As a result, in the decades to come Bill would devote much of his time and considerable energies raising the money needed to keep his beloved NR and other business ventures afloat.
Fortunately, Bill Buckley, the entrepreneur, was adept at converting his political views and hobbies into profitable enterprises. In addition to founding NR, for example, from 1966 to 1999 the tireless Buckley also hosted “Firing Line,” the Emmy-winning interview show that put diverse guests ranging from Jack Kerouac to Margaret Thatcher—and every sitting U.S. president from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton—under Buckley’s bare-bulb interrogatory.
He also authored 50 non-fiction and fiction books (and when he died, was working on a biography of his friend and ideological soulmate, Ronald Reagan), as well as “On the Right,” his bi-weekly newspaper column syndicated to over 300 newspapers (which, it is said, he could crank out in 20 minutes, or less!).
Bill, who had a son and two grandchildren, skied every winter for many years, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean three times, and across the Pacific once—adventures he described in his best-selling sailing books. As his son, writer Christopher Buckley, told The Associated Press: “He really didn’t leave any stone unturned.”
No Black Border
In the issue of National Review published after Bill’s passing editor Richard Lowry writes: “We considered a black border on the cover but decided against it, because we are not marking a death but celebrating a life. Besides, Bill loved the blue border: During my time as editor, we twice experimented with borderless covers, and he was not amused.” But not for long! Whenever something was wrong, Lowry continues, even if it had just happened two hours ago, “he wanted to put it aside and focus on the future.”
“To say he was our institutional ballast is a profound understatement,” Lowry avers, “He was more like the center of the earth.”
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