William F. Buckley, Jr. died eight years ago. The celebrity columnist, author, founder of National Review magazine, and host of the long running TV talk show “Firing Line”, has rightly been called the “undisputed godfather of modern conservatism.” I don’t think it’s any kind of stretch to say there was no more influential leader of conservatism in America than Buckley. It is also not a stretch to suggest there would not have been a governor or President Reagan without Reagan’s good friend, William F. Buckley. Reagan himself said Buckley was “perhaps the most influential journalist and intellectual in our era.” The author of more than 60 books, including some non-fiction, it is a pleasant surprise that eight years after his passing we can enjoy another Buckley book. “A Torch Kept Lit – Great Lives of the Twentieth Century” is edited by journalist James Rosen, a Buckley protégé and frequent contributor to National Review. This delightful book is Rosen’s collection of more than 50 of the best obituaries and eulogies written by Buckley. Buckley’s writing about the deceased, in both his syndicated column and in National Review, covered a very wide range of individuals. The list includes presidents such as Eisenhower and Johnson, his own family members, other public figures such as Churchill, Barry Goldwater, and Martin Luther King, Jr., writers and entertainers like Truman Capote, Johnny Carson, Elvis, and Norman Mailer and others like Nelson Rockefeller and Eleanor Roosevelt. “A Torch Kept Lit” is a totally delightful and entertaining read.
Buckley on Lyndon Johnson
One of my favorites: Buckley said when Johnson felt the urge to act like a statesman, “he lies down until he gets over it.” Buckley described LBJ as “a man of his most recent word.”
My instructions from Clarke Reed: “Don’t bug him, boy”
I had one personal encounter with Buckley. During the 1970s, I had left my home in Ocean Springs and was living and working in Jackson on a statewide campaign. At the time,
Clarke Reed of Greenville was chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party. Reed was not only one of the most powerful figures in the national Republican Party, he was also a personal friend of Buckley. National Review depends on contributions in addition to the usual advertising and subscription revenue. I always suspected Reed was also a significant contributor to the magazine. One night, as is often the case in political campaigns, I was working late at the campaign office in downtown Jackson. I answered the phone and it was Reed. Buckley had arrived in Jackson, and Reed was flying down from Greenville to meet with him. However, bad weather grounded Reed’s plane, and he would not be able to fly into Jackson until the next morning. Reed gave me very clear instructions on the message he wanted me to personally deliver Buckley at his downtown hotel. He gave me Buckley’s room number and added, “Now don’t bug him, boy.” Reed called almost everyone “boy” regardless if they were 12 or 52 years old. He repeated, “Don’t bug him boy.” Sure, I thought jokingly to myself. As soon as Buckley opened his door, I was going to barge into his room, ask for a drink, make myself at home and shoot the bull with the famous Buckley. Of course, I didn’t and delivered the message as instructed and didn’t “bug” Buckley.