I was quite saddened to learn of the death of William F. Buckley, JR this week. I actually was snooping around the NRO site and happened upon the announcement in The Corner within about 30 minutes of it being posted. As I read numerous tributes to him over the following days, I reflected on Buckley’s influence on me.
My first introduction to WFB was Happy Days Were Again, which I bought when I was a sophomore in college. I had heard of National Review before then, but I would be lying if I said I was precocious 15-year-old reading his columns and signing up for Latin classes to be able to understand them. But that book was the start of it for me. As read more and more of him, I was in awe of the depth and breadth of his knowledge and in later years, I remember remarking to a friend, “I’m sure as hell glad is on our side.”
I did actually see him in person once. In the spring of 1995, during my junior year at Texas A&M, he moderated a debate between former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin. As I was entering the auditorium, I walked right by him as he was exiting his car. He had a huge smile and seemed genuinely excited to shake the hands of those there to greet him. It was a profound regret of mine later on that I didn’t pay close enough attention during the debate.
Over the years, I anxiously awaited the release of his next tome. Just last week, I finished his most recent book, Cancel Your Own Goddamn Subscription. My personal favorite is Let Us Talk of Many Things, his collection of speeches, which contained a story of him pretending to drown so that then President Reagan could save him in order to earn the National Review Medal of Freedom.
The one piece of writing from Buckley that I always remember is a short reply to a letter reprinted in Buckley: The Right Word. In it, an Air Force Captain writes about a close friend, an admirer of Buckley, who was killed during Operation Desert Storm. He replied:
I am profoundly moved; and I extend you, his friend, our condolences, even as we share your pride in our friend. Gratefully, –WFB
To William F. Buckley, Jr, I am profoundly moved by your contributions to this country over the course of your very full life. And I would like to say thanks.