Two generations of conservative activists, along with members of his large family and the President of the United States, gathered together at the White House last week to hail William F. Buckley, Jr.
The founder of National Review, in Washington to celebrate both his 80th birthday and the 50th anniversary of his magazine, was feated at a special forum in the Old Executive Office Building of the White House. There, Buckley’s wide circle of friends delighted the standing-room-only crowd with reminiscences of the man who has been called the patron saint of modern conservatism. Older brother James L. Buckley, former U.S. Senator from New York and retired judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, said that being related to William "was not an unmixed blessing." He recalled how an irate constituent confused them and wrote a letter blasting the then-senator for appearing on the TV program "Laugh-In" and joking that he only flew in planes with two right wings. (That was Bill Buckley who made the appearance).
Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told how he first became acquainted with Buckley by turning down an article the young publisher had submitted to Confluence magazine, a publication Kissinger helped edit while in graduate school at Harvard ("Where conservatives were an unknown species," he explained). Author and former American Conservative Chairman Union M. Stanton Evans, recalling his days as a Yale freshman standing in line to buy Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, spoke eloquently of how Buckley’s persona changed the impression of conservatives as "a cross between Mortimer Snerd and Attila the Hun."
James Jackson Kilpatrick, author and syndicated columnist, paid moving tribute to Buckley’s wife Pat and to Buckley’s skill as a sailor. Once, when asked to take the wheel of Buckley’s beloved Suzie Wong yacht, Kilpatrick said, he ran it aground. His friend Buckley forgave him, however, "after I said 42 Hail Marys and 102 Our Fathers," joked Kilpatrick. Television commentator George Will pointed out that National Review was on the scene before Goldwater or Reagan and summarized Buckley as the journalist who had the most impact on American life.
Other speakers included Roger Kimball, a journalist who also attends Roman Catholic Mass (in Latin) with Buckley, and Sir Alistair Horne, Buckley’s roommate at the Millbrook School and a distinguished British biographer.
The "clean-up" batter of the event was George W. Bush himself. Joking about the eclectic friends of the honoree ("That’s a Yale word!"), the President pointed out that both former Communists and free marketeers made up the original staff of National Review. He then led the veteran publisher and his family off to a private lunch.
Author of 50 books, publisher, lecturer (at one point delivering 70 lectures in one year), sailor, TV personality, candidate for office (the first Conservative Party nominee for mayor of New York, back in 1965)–William F. Buckley is truly an American original and deserved of the moving tribute he received today.