Friday, March 2, 2018

Recalling William F. Buckley's Charm and Generosity

by Ray Keating

When William F. Buckley, Jr. passed away ten years ago, I was a weekly columnist with Newsday. Here is the column I wrote at the time.

Photo Courtesy of National Review Online

Life offers good days and bad days. The key is to keep it all in proper perspective, and cherish the many gifts from God.
But that’s not always easy. Early last week, I had a couple of bad days. You know – expensive car woes, career challenges, and so on. Then I heard on Wednesday morning that William F. Buckley, Jr. had died. My own frustrations gave way to loss and sadness.
Much can and has been written in recent days about this witty, intellectual powerhouse who was central to the modern-day conservative movement. Buckley started National Review magazine, penned a syndicated newspaper column, wrote novels and nonfiction books, hosted a television show, tweaked liberals, and did much more in nearly six decades of public life.
Oh yes, and he played an important role in defeating communism by laying the intellectual groundwork for Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
In addition, Buckley sailed the seas, ran for mayor of New York City in 1965 on the Conservative Party line to the irritation of liberal Republican John Lindsay, and even was a CIA agent for a brief time. How cool is all of that?
And he did it with panache and obvious joy. Perhaps a small part of the reason I became a conservative was because of Bill Buckley. I wanted to have as much fun as that guy.
But two personal encounters with Buckley revealed his charm and generosity.
The first time was nearly 20 years ago. I just started writing a column for a very small, now-long-forgotten New York City newspaper. Buckley was doing a lunchtime book signing. So, I decided to ask this conservative luminary for advice. I slipped a few of my columns in an envelope, and when it was my turn in line, nervously handed Buckley the package, asking if he might take a look at my work. His face lit up with a smile, and he declared, “I most certainly will.”
A couple of weeks later, a letter arrived. Buckley graciously read through these early rough columns, and offered some helpful, but gentle critiques. He added that none of this should make me hesitate at the keyboard because I was making a positive contribution. That note of encouragement was invaluable.
During subsequent years, I joked with friends that my life would be complete if two things happened. Jack Nicklaus said “nice round” after playing 18 holes of golf, and Bill Buckley gave thumbs up to my writing.
Well, a couple of years ago, I again saw Buckley at a New York City gathering, and introduced myself. He responded with another smile and said: “Raymond Keating, I read your work.” Without thinking, in a kind of haze of disbelief, I responded: “Oh, come on.” But he reassured that was the case, and we enjoyed a nice conversation. (No word from Nicklaus as yet.)
Those moments with Buckley were good days for this conservative writer. They are memories to be cherished.
But many others have had similar experiences. For example, Matt Carolan, my onetime column partner in these pages, worked for Buckley at National Review. Last week, Matt noted many generous acts on Buckley’s part, and concluded: “Bill's Christian charity and welcoming spirit, whether that be directed to employees, strangers or even political and cultural opponents, were surely some of his greatest accomplishments.”
In my life and so many others, Bill Buckley was a gift. Last Wednesday was a bad day for those of us left on this celestial ball as we will miss William F. Buckley, Jr. But Buckley, I have no doubt, is now enjoying paradise, and paradise is all the more lively for his arrival.

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