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William F. Buckley, Jr. -- RIP

By Rick Pearcey

Feb. 28, 2008 -- In St. Louis in the late '70s, my wife Nancy and I were students at Covenant Seminary. Nancy was still in her "feminist" stage, and when a fellow student gave her a copy of Buckley's magazine National Review as a source for a paper she was writing, she was too embarrassed to be seen carrying such a "reactionary" publication. She hid it among her school papers.

We also worked as house parents at a home for emotionally disturbed teenage girls. We didn't really know what a conservative was, but our fellow house parent, a large and irrepressible black woman named Lovie Terrell, advised me that I should be a Democrat because "you care about people," while Republicans care only about the rich.

Well, we were poor, we lived in the inner-city, and we cared about community. But Democrats didn't seem to care for the little guy when it came to abortion, and that was one reason we began to look elsewhere for a political expression with inclusive, high ideals for every member of the human race.

While we were in graduate school in Toronto, National Review became an oasis of cheer and civility in a society galloping away from Western Civilization as quickly as an activist government might allow. A group of us would meet at a restaurant to discuss the latest offerings in the likes of NR, American Spectator, and The Human Life Review. I think these meetings were legal.

While in Toronto, I put together a booklet decked out in National Review blue and called The Conservative Directory: Contacts and Resources for Thought and Action. I wrote to ask Bill Buckley to write a Foreword and was honored that he wrote back. He warmly declined. I was on Cloud 9.

I finally met Buckley personally at the Hay-Adams Hotel near the White House. At the time I was managing editor of Human Events, Ronald Reagan's favorite newspaper and where Ann Coulter now hangs her bonnet. The Vice President was there, and Larry King showed up. But the highlight for me was meeting Buckley.

Later Buckley offered high praise for How Now Shall We Live?, published in 1999 and written by coauthors Nancy Pearcey, Charles W. Colson, and novelist Harold Fickett:

The singular pleasure that comes from it is its absolute learned refusal to give any quarter to the dogged materialists who deny any possibility that there was a creator around the corner. This is a substantial book, but the reader never tires, as one might from a catechistic marathon. The arguments are cogently and readably presented.  

Since Nancy did the "heavy lifting" on How Now (writing 27-plus chapters), this husband would like to thank Buckley for his generous assessment of her work.

Over the years, Buckley fired penetrating questions on his unmatched program Firing Line. He somehow found time to write his own columns and scores of books that bear reading and rereading. And he has a reputation of honoring people by treating them with the respect and dignity that accords individuals created in the image of God, whom Haydn so gloriously describes in The Creation, his choral masterpiece.

In several respects one is reminded of Francis Schaeffer and C.S. Lewis -- deep, quick, sharp, but also humane in their brilliance, also caring for the human being next door, also real people doing real work. The contrast with the opportunistic “mover and shaker” of Big Government, Big Celebrity, or, sadly, Big Christianity, encourages us to push forward to a higher calling, a nobler practice, a loving dream awalk in the world.    

Genius here combines with humanity to mark William F. Buckley a most unusual man. To say this empyreal figure will be missed is an understatement of Buckleyesque proportion.

Rick Pearcey is editor and publisher of The Pearcey Report (articles).

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