February 27, 2008, was, by recollection, a gloomy Wednesday in New York City, except . . . it was actually sunny. The terrible news shades the memory gray — Bill Buckley died that morning at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82 and had battled a number of persistent and complicating afflictions. They won out. But he went, as they say, with his boots on — in his study, writing, adding to the millions of words he had already shared with the world on topics from Bach and GPS systems to tax cuts and communism. (Our friend Larry Perelman, the wonderful pianist, was a guest at Bill’s home, and his recalling of what transpired, “In WFB’s Footsteps,” is a beautiful piece that we heartily recommend.)
Back at NR’s Lexington Avenue offices, Dusty Rhodes gathered the staff to share the grim news. Maybe some among us were surprised, but most weren’t. To have spent any time with Bill in the previous months left one convinced our founder and friend was in his amazing life’s last round. Surprise or not, it was still a blow. It lingers.
Today on this anniversary, as we have done in the dozen years prior, we share a meaningful sentiment from Bill. In 1962, the editors of The Individualist, the newsletter of Young Conservative Club of Walt Whitman High School (in the Bronx), had written him about a passage in his new book, Up from Liberalism, concerning “final truths.” Just what were they, and what and why do they matter? Bill responded, and The Individualist (a mimeographed copy has survived, thankfully) dutifully shared his reflection:
In the passage you quote from Up From Liberalism I intended, indeed, to refer to the religious truth that is our central heritage and to the moral philosophy and human insight that derive from it. Sometimes this position is referred to (in a phrase going back, I believe, to the days of the Roman Empire) as “the morality of the last days” — by which is meant the world-view of men who know that death is close. But, in the long view, we all stand sentenced to death, and whether it comes in 1995 or tomorrow makes no difference. That is why the morality of the last days always applies to what is “finally important in human experience.” All our techniques of social welfare, all our science, all our comfort, all our liberty, all our democracy and foreign aid and grandiloquent orations — all that means nothing to me and nothing to you in the moment when we go. At that moment we must put our souls in order, and the way to do that was lighted for us by Jesus, and since then we have had need of no other light. That is what is finally important; it has not changed; and it will not change. It is truth, which shall ever abide in the future. And if it is “reactionary” to hold a truth that will be valid for all future time, then words have lost their meaning, and men their reason.
We hope it is not too reactionary a suggestion, that today a thought kindly, a prayer meaningful, be shared in remembrance of our late founder. Requiescat in pace.