June 23, 2009

Memories of William F. Buckley, Jr.

Justin Katz

The final session of the Portsmouth Institute's conference on "The Catholic William F. Buckley, Jr." could be considered fated in the fashion of those humorous suspicions that something is cursed. First slated to be filled by the subject's son, Christopher, the slot was handed within the past few weeks to Reagan speechwriter Anthony Dolan. A last minute scheduling problem, however, required substitutes for the substitute. Such was the caliber of the conference's audience that organizer James MacGuire was able to put together a compelling set of speakers within a mere hours.

The first to take the podium was Neal Freeman, a close friend of Buckley's who undertook multiple professional tasks at his behest.

Suitably, Mr. Freeman focused on WFB's talent for making friends: Stream, download (27 sec). That talent was not a contrivance, though, as Freeman illustrated through a humorous anecdote relating Buckley's ostensibly confidential comments about him to the FBI: Stream, download (1 min, 35 sec).

Expanding the portraiture, Portsmouth Abbey Oblate Director Dom Damian Kearney related his experiences with Bill Buckley, first when they were both students at Yale (among the strictly limited 10% of students who were Catholic) and later when Mr. Buckley sent his son Christopher to Kearney's school, where the monk once caught the young man thumbing through an issue of Playboy, featuring an article by his father: Stream, download (59 sec).

James MacGuire was a friend of Christopher's in those days, and remains such, now, so he had several personal anecdotes about the Buckley family, as well, when he took the microphone (which had been reduced to a mere turn of phrase by the failure of the actual microphone's battery).

MacGuire's central mission, though, was to read some excerpts from Christopher Buckley's book Losing Mum and Pup, and he summed up Christopher's tenuous relationship with his father's faith thus: Stream, download (1 min, 8 sec).

The final speaker of the whole shebang was Clark Judge, Managing Director of the White House Writers Group, who brought the conversation back toward the academic and strove to describe the essence of William F. Buckley, Jr.'s accomplishment: Stream, download (46 sec).