Today William F. Buckley, Jr. passed into the presence of his Lord. He leaves a legacy of political discourse that enriched the nation, energized his friends and charmed his foes (many of whom became his friends). He had the gift of a quick wit and brilliance in debate, speaking and writing.
He also had a heart for people and the gift of making and keeping friends. I was privileged to be called his friend from the early 1970's on.
What may not always have been apparent in his public debates and commentary was his genuine care for people–and the personal humility that made that possible. He never acted as though he were someone special. He acted as though you were someone special. He treated a young, idealist nobody from Oregon as though I was special. Here's a bit from one of his letters to me:
I spent an evening and a day with Malcolm [Muggeridge] as recently as last December, and think him very special. He is coming to New York to do a Firing Line with me in a couple of weeks. It pleases me hugely that he thinks well of me, though no more than it pleases me that you do.
(April 27, 1979)
He once said after an introduction filled with the sort of overstated praise that is common to speaker introductions, “It doesn’t hurt as long as you don’t inhale.” Bill Buckley never inhaled praise or his own success.
He was ever generous and encouraging and helped many young people both liberal and conservative in political commentary and writing careers. (Jeff Greenfield was a regular on Firing Line in the 1970's.) Bill was clear in his thinking and firm on his convictions.
Those who give opinions regularly must either put themselves forward as imposters or else confess quite openly that they are the very best opinions going. That is not to say, of course, that they are the result of one's own thought, created ex nihilo. Mine most assuredly are not: I lean most heavily on other men, living and dead, men whose ideas, should I find myself at variance with them, it would cause me great anxiety, indeed would bring me to doubt deeply the wisdom of continuing in my profession. If I felt that I were losing my faith, I would lie down until I got over it. That is thought by most people to be very un-Amercan. I consider that it is very wise, provided you are certain, as I am, of the superiority of other people's thinking to your own, and know who those others are.
(WFB, from the introduction to The Jeweler's Eye)
Bill was oh so easy to be with and enjoy. He laughed easily and always had a story or humorous anecdote at hand to liven up a point either he or you were making.
Bill was a committed Christian. He loved his Lord, and the desire to publicly communicate that resulted in Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith (1997, Doubleday). One could also see Bill's passion as a Christian in Firing Line interviews he did with Malcolm Muggeridge. Muggeridge wore his faith effortlessly, and Bill explored the how's and why's of Muggeridge's ease in evangelism.
Bill consistently encouraged me in my faith and desire to serve the Lord. He even offered to write a letter of recommendation for me to a graduate program in theology at a top evangelical school. I took him up on it, and one of my treasured possessions is the copy he sent me of that recommendation.
Bill did a short answer interview for Vanity Fair in the September 1993 issue. Here are some of his answers:
What is your idea of perfect happiness? Heaven.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd like to know how to pray better.
What is your most treasured possession? My faith.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? The loss of faith.
How would you like to die? Painlessly.
Today he got two of his wishes. He died painlessly, and he is now in perfect happiness with his Lord (and his beloved Pat) in Heaven.
His passing is a loss to the nation, his family, friends and admirers, and to me. I loved Bill Buckley.
C. S. Lewis once wrote that the passing of a friend is a bit like losing a leg. It may not hurt so much after the amputation, but no more mountain walks. I'm already missing those mountain walks.