Larry Perelman, a close personal friend of William F. Buckley Jr., recently published a piece he had written shortly after his friend’s death five years ago. He was staying in Buckley’s house when he died.
On this, the fifth anniversary of Bill’s death, I am observing a Yahrzeit (a Jewish tradition of commemorating the dead) because I feel the absence of Bill in a particularly profound way. Five years ago I wrote about my friendship with Bill and the dinner I had with him on what ended up being the night before he died. I ended that piece at the point when he went upstairs to bed. In fact, I too spent that night at Bill’s house so that I could practice the next day for the concert.
I wrote the following not long afterward, but saved it for publication until I felt a comfortable period had passed. Now is the time I’ve decided to share it.
Buckley, Perelman says, “was and is,” (along with his ally Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, I might add) “in the pantheon of great men, intellectual giants, and artistic geniuses.” Read the whole story here.
Also see Fr. Richard John Neuhaus’ own remembrance of Bill Buckley. Some excerpts:
In 1984, in association with an institute in the Midwest, I established the Center on Religion and Society. Five years later there was a very nasty break-up, with the Illinois institute sending thugs to raid the offices and put us out on the street. It was a much publicized brouhaha at the time, with “paleo-cons” (them) and “neo-cons” (us) going at one another. Bill’s support was invaluable, and out of it all came the Institute on Religion and Public Life and this magazine. Every May 5, the staff of the magazine has a celebratory lunch in honor of the raid. You may be sure that this year we will be raising a glass to Bill Buckley.
Bill was what some call a natural Catholic, bred-in-the-bone, so to speak, but his was also a faith refined and reinforced by a lifetime of spiritual reflectiveness. He indicated from time to time a mix of puzzlement and sadness about those who resisted an explanation of reality so comprehensive, coherent, and reasonable. When in 1990, talking in his car after the taping of a Firing Line episode, I told him I had decided to become a Catholic, he said he felt like a Red Sox fan who had just learned about their signing up the Yankees’ star pitcher. That was intended to flatter, of course, but the unspoken implication was, “What took you so long?”
Bill Buckley was a man of almost inexhaustible curiosity, courtesy, generosity, and delight in the oddness of the human circumstance. He exulted in displaying his many talents, which was not pride so much as an invitation to others to share his amazement at the possibilities in being fully alive. He was also, in and through everything, a man of quietly solid Christian faith. I am among innumerable others whose lives are fuller by virtue of the gift of his friendship.