National Review invited colleagues and friends of Kate O’Beirne, who died Sunday, to share some of their memories of her. (Send your own memories of Kate to RememberingKateOBeirne@gmail.com.)
Kate’s wake is on Thursday and funeral Mass will be held on Friday at 1:30 in Virginia. Details here.
Kate was in a limo with one of her liberal female counterparts on Capital Gang, when the woman suddenly railed on her: “Why do you know things like that?! Why do you have all of those figures?!” In the televised encounter, Kate had simply put a direct question: “Do you know what the budget of the U.S. is? Do you know what this government spends each year?” Her liberal colleagues could soar off into the clouds with visions of a government that could to remedy, without strain, the burning hurts and disappointments of private life. But of course, Kate could unsettle her liberal counterparts even more when the subject turned to abortion and she could roll off rather precise, jarring facts about the unborn child in the womb. She could also correct the glib untruths so readily retailed –e.g., that the right to abortion covered only the first trimester of the pregnancy, rather than offering the most sweeping right, extending to the full reach of the pregnancy — and even when the child came out, by accident, born alive. But “feminist fundamentalism,” she said, “holds that the battle of the sexes can’t be won unless women make war on the tiniest enemies of their independence.” That line had the ring of Kate’s sensibility, or her sense of irony, always engaged, and so she was quick to spot the “irony-impaired Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D., Calif.) [who] explained, ‘I have to march because my mother could not have an abortion.’”
Kate’s angle on life and politics came with the accent of Catholic girl, bred in New York, with a father owning a supper club in Manhattan. There was no need to cultivate “urbanity,” for she was a child of New York through and through, and she saw things with the eye of a family in the restaurant business: She saw things as they were. When Catholic New York elected a real senator of its own, Jim Buckley, Kate found just the right base for herself on that staff, along with friends and co-conspirators like Michael Uhlmann. From that vantage, she learned the ways of the Hill. She absorbed also the demanding sense of people who have to do their homework when they enter into the serious business of legislating. With Uhlmann she eventually made her way to the Reagan administration, and from there to a vice presidency at the Heritage Foundation. Her beat remained the Hill, and she moved in that terrain as a master. When John O’Sullivan invited her to take a leading role at NR, he knew that he was adding one of the savviest observers of the life of politics in Washington.
—Hadley Arkes is the Ney Professor of Jurisprudence Emeritus at Amherst College. He is also Founder and Director of the Washington-based James Wilson Institute on Natural Rights and the American Founding.
Kate deployed a wonderful preamble when we spoke that I now find revealing. She used it not only with me, but with many others.
During a conversation, she’d take a pause, stab a cigarette in the air, and announce, “As you know, Raymond . . . ” and then she’d go on to tell me something that I actually did not know. It was Kate’s gentle way of correcting and resetting an issue. She had a penetrating mind that could instantly grasp the deeper implications of events or issues that eluded most of us. But it was Kate’s concern for the good of the people she interacted with and society at large that was her life’s work. And she did it while allowing the less enlightened among us to preserve our dignity.
This is not to suggest that Kate was the Mother Teresa of Capitol Hill — perhaps she was the Mother Angelica. (In fact, she helped me title and edit both of my Mother Angelica biographies, offering critical notes and encouraging me to embrace her love of alliteration). Kate could be hilarious and cutting when necessary. She saw right through the over-inflated egos of D.C. and could puncture them with withering asides. At one of her last public events, Kate spied me across a packed room. Her height always gave her the advantage of seeing you before you saw her. In the middle of our conversation, a well-known pol rudely cut in to trumpet some bill he was pushing. As he walked away, Kate eyed him and muttered, “I’m glad he’s got taxes figured out. Now he’ll have time to work on civility.” One day she joined me as I chatted with a group about some Church officials. As I finished, she put her arm around me and said, “If you don’t have something nice to say…come sit next to me.”
Laughs aside, Kate was a devoted and sincere friend — one unafraid to share her Catholic faith. She was the godmother to Robert Novak, Judge Robert Bork, and Ramesh Ponnuru, but it could be argued that she was godmother to all of her friends. She took time to offer advice on everything from schools to career choices. Though as I reflect on our many lunches at the McLean Family Restaurant or at roving eateries in Rome, there was a constant in every conversation: her boys and her husband, Jim. She could not have been more proud of “Philip and John O’Beirne” whom she always referred to by their full names. I’ll never forget the tender moments I witnessed of those two sons by her death bed. Jackie Kennedy was right: We will finally be judged by the children we leave behind. Kate knew what she was leaving behind, which is why I think she clung to life for so many days in spite of her body’s rebellion.
In a place like D.C., it is rare to find people of grace who truly care for the souls nearest them. Kate O’Beirne was such a person. Regardless of party or politics, she was there when she was needed most, professionally or otherwise.
As you know Kate, we all loved you so. Rest in peace, my friend, and save a Prosecco for me.
—Raymond Arroyo is the New York Times Bestselling author of the Will Wilder series and host of The World Over on EWTN.
I didn’t know Kate when I first heard from her. She was working at the Heritage Foundation and I quickly concluded she was overqualified for whatever she was doing there. This must have when I was doing The McLaughlin Group TV show. All I recall from our first contact was being overpowered by her personality, her kindness, and that she knew more about what was going on in Washington than I did. And she was funny. I was flattered by her call. I wasn’t surprised when she turned up in bigger roles. National Review was one, but then there was Capital Gang on CNN. When Bob Novak started the show in the late 1980s, he brought her on board. She was instantly a dominant force. Kate was made for television. I loved watching her more than the men. She overpowered them too, even Bob Novak at times.
I heard often from my son-in-law Walton Liles about Kate too. He was a fellow at the National Review Institute in Washington in 2010-2011. It was run by Kate. He was amazed at the great speakers she got for the institute’s dinner. “The reason it worked was everyone liked her,” he told me. “Speakers would say yes to her.” The high-priced ones would come for free. “She was a great emcee at the dinners.” I can only imagine.
Kate loved Christ. I knew that before I was invited on a trip to Rome and the Vatican a few years ago with Kate in charge. I could feel her love of Christ. And that’s when I got to love her. We saw a lot of priests, ate with them, went to mass every day, and saw many cathedrals. Back at the Standard, my colleagues joked that I would come back a Catholic. I didn’t. But because of Kate, I may one day.
—Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.
Kat Meskill Blomquist
Arriving in the wilds of Washington, D.C., straight from college, one could not have asked for a better first boss. As Kate took the helm of NR’s new Washington office, I was lucky enough to find myself as its new office manager. This role entailed answering the phones, begging Rich or Ramesh to replace the extremely heavy jug on the water dispenser, filling our office bathtub with bottles of beer for one of our cozy office parties in our space over Trover Books, and most importantly, working for Kate and having the chance to get to know her and observe her on a day-to-day basis.
I couldn’t get over how generous she was to me — someone with zero connections or political juice, which I soon learned was a measure of how much time one could expect from others in this town. Kate was the perfect role model personally and professionally. She was a conservative Irish-Catholic New Yorker who proudly followed her husband, Jim, in his Army career while still pursuing her own, just as I was poised to do. She was also a witty wise cracker — highly admired traits in my family. To see that one could possess these characteristics and still be a highly respected leader was a big relief because as a college student in the South, I learned just how hard it is to shake that New York edge.
Even as I have gone on in my career and found myself in more corporate environments where being irreverent and witty isn’t always welcome, I could always remember to stay to true to who I was because I knew Kate — someone I admired so greatly who was always unafraid to be who she was yet was still a giant success — most likely for that very reason. I often suspected that it was a rock-solid foundation of family, faith, and New York sensibility that made it so easy for Kate to be so unapologetically Kate. I think people were stunned and impressed to meet someone like her in Washington — someone who, frankly, just wasn’t a phony.
As the tides of political and professional fortunes ebbed and flowed for people, Kate was a strong, solid, honest rock for people to hold onto. Whether you were an intern or a U.S. senator, Kate would gladly join you in a conspiratorial conversation about the next move one might make to achieve a goal. Even if she didn’t have the specific guidance you wanted at that time, you’d leave any conversation with a funny but memorable and thought-provoking gem that you’d take with you forever.
They say that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog. I would have always advised to skip the dog and just get to know Kate.
— Kat Meskill Blomquist is the director of corporate communications at Breakthru Beverage Group
Mary Ellen Bork
Besides being Bob’s inspiring godmother in 2003, Kate has been a constant friend, a sympathetic listener, an astute observer of all things political and legal, and one of the funniest people I have ever known. Once we were in a Laura Ashley fashion show to raise money for a local high school. We changed into several outfits, and at one point Kate exclaimed, “Look at me, I look like a shepherdess!” We could hardly continue to walk on stage we were laughing so hard.
She and I visited a couple of times with Dean Bernard Dobranski when he was in a wheelchair at Ave Maria School of Law in Naples, Florida. She had been on the board of the new law school, and Bob taught there for six years before it moved to Naples, Florida. While we were in Naples, Father Robert Sirico came to speak, and Bernie got us tickets. When Father Sirico heard Kate was coming he asked her to be the mistress of ceremonies. She took over with little notice, charmed the audience, and had everyone laughing.
Kate’s love of life, of the Church, and of the truth have indelibly marked our lives. We will always love her.
—Mary Ellen Bork is a freelance writer and lecturer on issues affecting Catholic life and culture.
James Buckley served in the U.S. Senate from 1971 to 1976. His staff was composed of a small band of young conservatives navigating their way through the halls of power in Washington, including Kate Walsh. It was a time before conservatism was cool, and more battles were lost than won. Kate was one of the young staffers serving the senator, and it was clear from day one that she would be a star in the conservative firmament, although it would come after marriage to her wonderful husband Jim and law school. Like Jim Buckley, Kate was a principled conservative with a generous spirit and heart. Her wit and wisdom were evident in those early days as they were throughout her life. It was impossible to have even a short conversation with her without laughing. She was such wonderful company whether discussing Vanity Fair or voters. She was an astute analyst of politics, and her column in NR was always worth reading. Family and faith were central to her, and we loved hearing stories of her boys and later the grandchildren. She was an original and we are all privileged to have known this exceptional woman. I feel especially grateful to have watched her achieve great success and to know she was the same person I met so many years ago in every important way.
—Karlyn Bowman is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Gerard V. Bradley
Kate Walsh O’Beirne passed away at about noon on Divine Mercy Sunday, at a time on the day when an Irish-American Monsignor would have been celebrating “High Mass” at the parishes of our youth. We were close in age, and both New Yorkers. Well, just about: I am the son of a Brooklyn cop and Kate grew up on “the Island”, which is what we called every burgh east of Queens and west of Piccadilly. (For the record, she was from Manhasset. Not that it makes much difference.)
Kate Walsh cut her political teeth working on James Buckley’s Conservative party bid for the Senate in 1970. He surprised most of us (though probably not Kate) by beating liberal Republican Charles Goodell and even more liberal Democrat Richard Ottinger. Jim became one of Kate’s best friends and, I dare say, warmest admirers.
Kate married her beloved Jim O’Beirne, and raised two fine sons — one of whom (Phil) it was my privilege to teach at the Notre Dame Law School. Her professional accomplishments were legion. It is enough now to observe, with the Psalmist, that Kate went “from strength to strength” throughout her long and productive career.
We met and got to know each well when we were in the neighborhood of 50 years old. But then and thereafter it was easy for me to see the Irish-Catholic “Island” girl in her. Her looks and manner of expression were hints. We shared many common memories of growing up in the same subculture, even if separated by some 20 miles, an urban/suburban divide, and one average household income level. Almost everyone crafting a recollection of Kate will remark that she was one “classy lady.” Indeed, she was. But Kate was also marvelously unpretentious, and sensible. She often struck me as the kind of girl I might have met at a high-school dance, just less impressed with herself than many and not neurotic at all.
Kate was of course devoted to the Church. Hers was a typically Irish, undemonstrative but nonetheless profound Catholic faith. And thoughtful; she was after all very smart, and well educated in Catholic schools. Kate moved in intellectual circles, clerical and otherwise, throughout her adult life. But Kate’s Catholicism was forever simple. It seemed to me to be the same intuitive, incorrigible conviction of the truth of the Gospels and trust in the promises of Christ that I remember seeing in so many moms and dads, cops and firemen, in my Brooklyn parish. It is that faith to which we all should aspire until, as the Psalmist wrote, “each [of us] appears before God in Zion.”
—Gerard V. Bradley is professor of law at the University of Notre Dame.
Kate knew the secrets of life, big and small. She was a fiercely devoted friend; her only flaw, as far as I could tell, was that she had three beloved sisters and didn’t need another.
But I didn’t have any sisters and needed her. From the day she walked into CNN, she filled the role, teaching me the usual Washington things, like how to read an exit poll and shop online at Boden’s, but also that if I got brushed nickel bathroom fixtures, my house would sell faster and how great it was to have a warming drawer in the kitchen, and to ask Bob Novak who stuffed his shirts at one of our events.
She knew a lot about a lot. She once brought me a bottle of Prosecco and I said, somewhat ungratefully, that champagne gave me a terrible headache. Not to worry. This was made from different grapes in a special part of Italy. Drink up. We did.
She wasn’t just wickedly smart and funny. Oh, she could love, Phillip and John, her three sisters, and the grandchildren that kept coming and coming. And Jim. How lovingly she described him bent over a dollhouse one Christmas, a very large man laboring over very tiny furniture for Charlotte. They had each other at hello.
I saw Kate every week for a decade and then didn’t see enough of her. When she left National Review and then the Young Guns, she said how wonderful it was to be with family without the press of outside deadlines. She didn’t miss any of it.
Ever wise and knowing: The life Kate should have lived, she did live.
Last year, Kate came over for dinner with two of our friends, to comfort me after my brother died. He went suddenly and after saying how rotten that was she assured me it was his time. God needed him right then, and called.
We are devastated. But God needed Kate right away and he called.
I will raise a glass of Prosecco and try not to cry.
—Margaret Carlson, a columnist with Bloomberg View, was Kate’s co-panelist on Capital Gang.
Kate was my introduction to National Review and the world of political commentary generally. I met her at a Federalist Society reception sometime when I was working in the Bush Administration. I was charmed and star-struck at the same time. She had this way of making you feel at ease. A decade or more in the political punditry world at that time, she still showed a genuine interest in what you thought.
When I left government, I sent a piece I had written to her to see if she thought it interesting enough to publish. She told me that “I’ve never read anything like it!” (And meant it in a good way). And a few weeks later, Rich Lowry called when I was vacationing in Ireland, asking if he could print it. They even paid me for it. What a gig! I’ve written a lot since, mostly on NRO but for other publications as well. And it probably wouldn’t have happened without Kate.
You always knew when you struck a chord with Kate. Her face would light up in a wry grin and she’d point at you impishly. Whenever I was the beneficiary of a Kate “point,” I knew I’d said something smart. It didn’t happen that often in my case, but was always worth the price of admission.
Her greatest pride was her sons and grandchildren. She beamed when her son Phil, now a lawyer in D.C., joined the Army and later served in Afghanistan. When I later worked with Phil, I felt like I’d known him forever from his mom’s stories.
Kate O’Beirne was an American treasure and a dear friend. Fearless, with a heart of gold. My wife Casey, who saw Kate as a model for young women, and I will miss her deeply. My prayers for her husband Jim and her family.
Requiescat in pace.
—Shannen W. Coffin is a partner in Steptoe’s Washington office.
Representative Barbara Comstock
Our neighborhood, faith, and country lost a beautiful and beloved soul, Kate O’Beirne, at noon on Divine Mercy Sunday. Kate was peaceful, and surrounded in prayer by her husband of 42 years, Jim, and her beloved sons, Phil and John, and devoted sisters. We are devastated at her loss, but inspired by the witness of Kate’s life and so honored to keep vigil with her faithful and devoted family in her last days. Kate inspired her family and friends to the end, as she did in everything she did — with class, wit, and faith. Kate was a best friend, an inspired mentor for me and dozens of women, a wonderful wife, fiercely loving mother, and grandmother, and a brilliant writer and pundit. She was a godmother to so many conservative women and guided us on the personal, professional and spiritual fronts, always providing encouraging and spot-on advice, guidance, and even fashion tips and bargains she found. (“This would be perfect for you — great sale, your color — you have to get it!”) By her bedside was a card from a grandchild that read, “You made me a better person.” This was the case with anyone who was blessed with Kate’s friendship.
As people have heard the sad news, the immediate, universal response has been “I love her!” I met Kate in 1991, my first week working for my predecessor, Representative Frank Wolf. I immediately knew I had found a role model, a mentor, someone I wanted and needed for a lifelong friend. I was always so thrilled and honored that she obliged. In the over 25 years I knew her, I never met the person who didn’t. In 2013, we traveled to Rome together and were fortunate to have an audience with Pope Francis. Wherever we went in Vatican City, Kate knew a priest who walked by and of course, they all were fans. The angels are rejoicing that her suffering is over and she’s home. The hole in our lives can be somewhat filled by the legions of loved ones she leaves behind, but mostly by the example of her iconic, passionate personality and a life beautifully and faithfully lived.
—Barbara Comstock is a congresswoman from northern Virginia.
There are only two moments in life that truly matter: Now and at the hour of our death. Kate O’Beirne was truly prepared at the moments that matter. Kate had all the gifts and she was truly present at each moment sharing her gifts. She was tall, blonde, beautiful, kind, smart, quick, loyal, and thoughtful. Though she was a magnificent public presence, in private she was a great wife and mother, as anyone who knows her husband Jim or her sons Phil and John can attest. Her great love was domestic policy, but she was a shrewd political commentator in an ocean of pundits who added nothing to the public discourse. She treated the arguments of the Left with respect and tried to understand and distill them. Amazingly, she would share with her opponent their most winning points. She breezed into a room like a goddess, but she would notice the shyest, youngest, or most awkward person in the room and would bring her into the warmth of the circle.
We all adored Kate, but her humor and faith warmed me the most. Though she prepared thoroughly for every television appearance, she was so quick. Once we were touring Saint Peter’s and were at the balcony window where the newly elected pope steps out to greet the crowds, Kate peaked behind the sheer curtains to see Saint Peter’s Square below. The Monsignor pulled her back and she said, “Oh, I wanted the faithful to say, “Habemus Papa! We have our first blond Pope!”
However, Kate used her Catholic humor for more than laughter. She was instrumental in bringing many people into the Church. To one brilliant adult convert she said, “You are just too smart not to be a Catholic.” She was also the godmother of Robert Novak who converted later in life. At one awards dinner honoring him, she said, “I am Bob Novak’s godmother. Imagine how cute he was at his baptism.” Obviously, she delighted everyone who struggled to imagine the “Prince of darkness” in baptismal white.
We teasingly calling her “Kate the Great” which was her nickname in high school. She would say the reason she was popular in her all-girls high school was she was so tall and couldn’t steal the other girls’ boyfriends. So typical of Kate’s humility and humor. Kate’s book is entitled Women Who Make the World Worse. Kate was a woman who made the world far, far better. I can’t imagine now a world without her. Our consolation is she is going to welcome us one day to heaven. RIP
—Ann Corkery is a partner at Stein Mitchell Cipollone Beato & Missner LLP.
I keep recalling that knowing glance she’d shoot me and her many friends. If you watched her on TV, you probably remember it, too. An eyebrow slightly raised and her lips curled into a tight smile she could barely suppress. That was Kate O’Beirne, in her way, calling out whatever spin-meister or politician was in front of her. Eventually, that throaty laugh — that “hah!” — would find its way out. Oh, how we’re going to miss that laugh.
Kate was a queen of old-school Washington, in the best sense. She was classy, fun, and up to speed on everything. She had deep convictions but recoiled at pretensions on both sides. She made everybody feel like they were in on the joke and part of the crowd, even if they were decades younger or only starting to understand the political game.
Thanks entirely to her, I was tapped to be the inaugural William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute. She took a chance on a 22-year-old guy she didn’t know, who was studying across the pond at Cambridge. She and I just clicked on the phone during the interview, which was the opposite of “corporate.” We laughed and dished.
While Kate’s presence during her heyday could be colossal — she didn’t call congressmen or senators, they called her — it’s worth remembering that she did have a quiet side. Working alongside her at NR’s office on Capitol Hill, I found her thoughtful and reflective and, at times, wistful. She’d talk about the pope as much as she did about John Boehner.
Tough and cheeky on television but spiritual and kind to those who knew her well. Private and discreet on most fronts, except about her Catholic faith. A Beltway insider, to be sure, but a flinty conservative outsider at heart.
Kate cared. She cared about a great many things. And that laugh lives on.
—Robert Costa, National Political Reporter, the Washington Post, Moderator, PBS’s Washington Week, Political Analyst, NBC News and MSNBC, and former Washington Editor of National Review.
I am deeply saddened by the passing of my friend Kate O’Beirne.
She was truly one of the greats. And she will be sorely missed.
Kate was one of the first people I met when I moved to Washington 27 years ago. Kate was already a fixture in the world of Washington punditry. I had long enjoyed watching her spar with the best of them on Capitol Gang.
Although I cannot recall how we first met, I do recall remembering how much we were in sync on so many matters. I also discerned that I was talking not only to a delightful person with a remarkable sense of humor, but a walking institutional memory of the conservative movement and with a deep affection for all things Buckley. “Always remember,” she would like to say, “that there were ‘Buckley Democrats’ long before there were ‘Reagan Democrats.’” She did not have to explain. After all, that was how she started out. Like me, Kate was among Bill Buckley’s army of youthful admirers when he ran for mayor of New York.
Kate strongly identified with the “we” as it was used in what became James Buckley’s winning slogan in his successful Senatorial run in 1970: “Isn’t it time we had a Senator?” One of the many services James Buckley rendered this great nation was retaining Kate on his Washington staff. The rest, as they say, “is history.”
Over and over again, Kate proved the truth of the old adage that the best way to have friends is to be one. And she was among the best friends anyone could ever have. For me, she proved a steady source of advice, encouragement, and laughter.
It was no wonder so many in the conservative movement regarded her as our collective “den mother.” Nothing was too small to command her time and attention. And no problem was too large for her to declare it unsolvable. Kate would plunge right in, with verve, wit, and grace.
Like Bill Buckley, Kate had a special knack for putting out brushfires that occasionally broke out within the conservative movement. She was particularly apt in getting all sides to yield ground, especially when personal pride stood in people’s way. Also like Bill Buckley, Kate showed no tolerance for bigotry of any kind or intentional hurts or insults when they came from her side of the ideological fence. Having joined the conservative movement in its golden age, Kate took it as her professional calling to make it stronger than she found it. She succeeded miraculously.
I was proud to be her friend.
—Alvin S. Felzenberg is the author of A Man and His Presidents: The Political Odyssey of William F. Buckley, Jr.
I don’t know if Kate was taller than I am, but I always seemed to be looking up to her. She was physically imposing, I mean. Not just in her height, which she carried gracefully, almost casually, but in the sweep of blonde hair, the expressive hands, the laughing eyes, the throaty laugh. At a party she dominated the room without effort. Bill Kristol recalls that the wisest strategy at any Washington social affair was, first, to find Kate in the crowd and, second, to make your way over to her and join the crush of people who inevitably gathered around, because they were following the same strategy. Then you simply basked in the gossip (never malicious!) and the jokes, the pressing schemes and the breaking news that she, somehow, had heard before anyone else. Hanging out with Kate was the only way to be sure you would have a splendid time, no matter how dreary the occasion otherwise.
She was imposing in other ways: in her knowledge, her generosity, her gift for friendship, her faith in God, and her love for the communion of saints. Her light heart was never far below the surface. In conversation, she had a wonderful tic. She would make a wry remark about a personage or a recent event, and when you offered a remark of your own in agreement, she would lift her elegant hand and lower a long, sleek finger toward you. “Thank you,” she would say, gratefully, as though, finally, finally, she had at last found the one other sensible person in this insane, fallen world who understood the profoundest truths. My sister-in-law Mary was a big fan, and she got the treatment when she met Kate. “Thank you, Mary,” Kate said, finger lowered, when Mary concurred with some observation or another. It has become a byword in her and my brother’s family — just a tiny instance of the way Kate lives on.
There are much larger instances than this, of course, but it’s impossible to catalogue the pleasure she gave and the wisdom she showed to everyone who knew her. In tribute I can only lift my much-less-elegant hand and lower a knobby finger. Thank you, Kate, for everything.
—Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard and is the author of Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces (1996) and Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America (2007). Ferguson’s most recent book, Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College, was published in 2010 by Simon and Schuster.
Michael G. Franc
We all have moments in our careers when someone suggests that we consider a new direction, often one that hadn’t occurred to us previously. For me, Kate O’Beirne was one of those people.
It was the aftermath of the 1992 elections. Bill Clinton was the president-elect and the Congress was in the secure embrace of an antsy and ambitious Democratic party. A dozen years of uninterrupted Republican control of the White House will do that when there are more Medicaid expansions, tax increases, stimulus bills, and federal education laws to be written, not to mention a transformational overhaul of our entire health-care system. Kate was the Heritage Foundation vice president in charge of congressional relations and had convinced her superiors that the election results offered a unique opportunity for conservatives to reboot and work with like-minded legislative entrepreneurs on the Hill. The conservative (mostly, but not exclusively, GOP) minorities in the House and Senate, she believed, would have to spearhead an alternative policy agenda to counter the coming Democratic legislative blitzkrieg.
Kate approached me about joining her team at Heritage. My time on the Hill had taught that think tanks can play a crucial role in the policymaking process. Kate instinctively understood that a vacuum existed. An excellent core group of conservative legislators had emerged along with their teams of highly competent policy and communications staff. But the right-of-center think tank community was not set up to provide them with the ideas, technical details, arguments, and data to create the necessary alternative policy agenda. Nor was it quick enough on its feet to offer them the credible critiques they craved to counter the steady stream of major liberal legislation when those critiques were needed most. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
Under her leadership, Heritage embarked on an aggressive approach to educate Hill staff on the basics and encourage backbench members to offer creative and well-designed bills to cut taxes, reduce spending, reform entitlements, and reform the health-care system. Many of these bills would evolve into major policy initiatives in the 1990s and beyond. Conservative leaders in both chambers took notice and the inside-outside alliances that would sustain the Contract with America were in place. Kate was instrumental in making this all happen.
She possessed an unfailing eye for talent, an instinct for when to embark on new initiatives (in 1992, for example, she advocated successfully for Heritage to offer its own policy-orientation program for newly elected members of Congress (something that paid enormous dividends two years later when the GOP seized control of both chambers of Congress and continues to this day), and one of the keenest radars for sound market-based policy ideas I have ever encountered.
As others in her orbit have observed, she possessed a remarkable love of and dedication to her family, her quick Irish wit was legendary and envied, and her Catholicism was unyielding and an inspiration to many, especially to those she encouraged to join the Catholic Church.
Kate O’Beirne, RIP.
—Michael G. Franc is the Hoover Institution’s director of D.C. programs.
There was no one quite like her: smart, funny, irreverent, tall, stately, and totally lovely. What one remembers most when dwelling on our loss is her kindness. She had an uncanny way of sorting someone out, discovering what they needed and wanted, and finding a way to get it for them.
We have all been made better people for having Kate O’Beirne in our lives. For that she has our eternal gratitude and love.
—Lucianne Goldberg is publisher of Lucianne.com.
When you walked into Kate O’Beirne’s office at the Heritage Foundation, you knew she was different. Unlike most of her colleagues, her desk faced the window, with her back to the door. Her view was of the outside world.
That’s just how Kate was. Despite being a longtime Washington insider, she had a real sense of what the rest of America felt. She didn’t suffer Washington fools (and foolishness), but instead gave voice to conservative ideas in the pages of National Review, on TV, and in the halls of power.
Sitting in her office at the end of the week as she prepared for her appearances on CNN’s Capital Gang was an experience I will never forget. Despite being the young pup in the room, I had just as much standing with her as any of my older colleagues. She would often turn to me and say, “As you know . . . ” — and then tell me something I most certainly did not know.
On the handful of occasions when she used some line I had suggested, it was always a thrill to see it make it on the air. Far more often, though, I would borrow one of her quips or insights to use as my own to help me look wise beyond my years in meetings. I was hardly alone in finding inspiration in what she said to me.
Kate was one of a handful of mentors in my early years in Washington who helped me understand the power of words and the value of humility. In a town that often takes itself too seriously, she was quick with a laugh. She could be tough when needed, but she always delivered criticism constructively and demonstrated fierce loyalty to those who worked for her.
I often think back to a lunch we had several years after Kate and I had both moved on from Heritage to other opportunities. At the time, I was trying to figure out the next step in my career, and she was all too happy to help. She had a natural ability to identify an individual’s strengths and get them to focus on those.
As we ate and I told her about some opportunities that I had, her advice was direct: “You’re a good writer, so you need to write more.” To her, it was that simple. I’m not sure how well I have fulfilled that suggestion over the years, but I know that if she were here now, she would offer up a wry smile, a witty comment, and words of encouragement — just as she did for countless others who were lucky enough to have such conversations.
Many will miss her conservative voice, but I will forever be grateful for the friendship and mentorship she so generously gave to me during the past two decades.
Now I find myself saying one last time, “Thank you, Kate.”
—Chip Griffin is a principal at Harbor Light Writers Group.
Meghan Cox Gurdon
Like so many others who were lucky enough to know Kate O’Beirne, I loved her. Like those who have been eulogizing her, I find the same adjectives rushing to mind: Sharp, funny, tough, engaging, warm, generous.
I loved the way she’d cock her head, shoot out a pointing finger, and nod as if to say, “Am I right?”
I loved the way she made the people around her feel smart and valued and interesting.
I loved her unswerving commitment to the Catholic faith: “Thank God we have the Church,” she’d say.
I loved her skill with the conversational shiv, which was fast and accurate without hurting too much. At a party once, I said (like an idiot), “So, Kate, how are you getting along, writing your book?” This elicited a polite snort. “You know, Meghan,” she said, in that confidential way she had, “It turns out there’s a good reason no one’s ever supposed to ask that question.” Ouch! And rightly so!
I loved Kate’s energy. Even when she was sitting down, her foot would be tapping or her knee would be jogging as if she was compelled to live each moment with a little more intensity than other people.
Kate once told me that we wouldn’t be able to fix what’s wrong with American culture “until the Baby Boomers are cleared out.” Then she made a wry gesture towards herself: “Which is a shame, considering.”
I loved Kate, and, like everyone else who ever entered her charmed circle, this week I’ve been buffeted by gratitude and disbelief. How could Kate be gone? It seems impossible.
—Meghan Cox Gurdon is a writer in Washington.
Kate O’Beirne was magical.
If you were lucky enough to know her as a dear friend, not just a presence that lit up every room and every life she entered, you were blessed. And if Kate was your champion you were truly blessed indeed: As she would say with a twinkle in her eye, “The great thing about the Irish is they don’t just keep their own grudges, they keep their friends’ grudges too!”
I knew and loved Kate for 30 years, starting even before we worked at Heritage together in the late ‘80’s. I got to know and cherish her family and sisters along the way. She was my mentor and trusted guide, a role she played in so many lives. Among other wisdom, she shared with me that the most definitive statement of position on any issue could become ever so much more palatable with a simple “it just seems to me” inserted at the front of it. And that especially when it comes to husbands and sons, remember: Men need to be “socialized” — but never “feminized.”
She remained a north star for me until the end. Most recently she supplied me with expert guidance for a March trip to Italy: She advised in favor of arranged drivers and against “nutty cabs” in Rome, and told me exactly where to buy a certain line of beautiful resin jewelry in Florence.
But what I always appreciated most about Kate wasn’t her legendary wit, brilliant mind, and self-deprecating humor. Anyone who has met Kate has been enthralled by these things. No, it was that as she grew to dazzle the “elite” Washington scene at the height of her career — she wasn’t dazzled back. She wasn’t impressed by anyone’s status, and would happily eschew the most glittering of salons to instead be with good friends she simply valued and enjoyed. In fact, in true Kate fashion, she was just as happy to have a good excuse to avoid a salon.
Her love for and enjoyment of her family was a pleasure to witness. As she chose in her later years to focus more on her loved ones and grandchildren and less on preparing for Meet the Press sparring matches, it made sense to anyone who knew her. She never needed the fame, she always needed and cherished her family.
Whenever you were with Kate it wasn’t enough. Every coffee, lunch, dinner, or outing ended too soon. So in true Kate fashion, she once again left us wanting more. Of course, one of the many beautiful things about Kate is that this would be just as true if she’d lived to be 110.
Kate O’Beirne enriched so many lives. I will be forever grateful that mine is one of them.
—Betsy Hart is a senior development writer with the Heritage Foundation.
Kate O’Beirne was like a warm fire, crackling with humor and wit, in the center of the room. Her light and energy radiated outward, seamlessly connecting everyone within range. At noon on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Lord took her home. But while her fire has flickered out here on earth, I expect she’s lighting up the communion of saints in much the same way.
I knew of Kate before I knew her. I admired her clear thinking, her crisp writing, and her tell-it-like-it-is political analysis. But, perhaps unlike most people in Washington, D.C., I got to know Kate first in a “mom-to-mom” context. Our sons became close friends in high school and later, with a group of great guys, shared a house after college. During those years, even as Kate was taking on liberal commentators on CNN’s Capital Gang and crafting conservative messages as National Review’s Washington editor, our conversations — on soccer sidelines, at school events, and in D.C. social gatherings — centered mostly on the people she loved so dearly, her husband and sons, and then later her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She was a feisty political player, but even more, she was a woman who fiercely loved her God, her family, and the Church.
As the years passed, our work overlapped in shared zeal for the Church and concern for the culture. Kate’s wisdom and experience were deep; three attributes in particular stand out. First, she was a talent-spotter. Not just in the usual way of recognizing and nurturing a fresh young writer, for example, or a young conservative eager to change the world, but in a richer sense: She unfailingly looked for and encouraged the specific gifts of the people before her, whether a mom at home raising great kids, a priest ministering to the spiritual needs of many, or the law enforcement or military person steadfastly doing his duty. Second, she was a champion promoter — of others. In a city too often characterized by the twin sisters of ambition and envy, Kate was the exception. She promoted others’ good works as they were her own, boasting of their achievements and taking delight in bringing good people together. Her life was a happy witness to her belief that by connecting good people, even more good would happen. Third, she was straightforward, unflinchingly so, on matters of faith. What “everyone” thinks matters very little, if we don’t get things right with God. Kate had the confidence of one who knows that the only audience that really matters is an audience of One.
Farewell, Kate, and Godspeed.
—Mary Rice Hasson is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and editor of Promise and Challenge: Catholic Women Reflect on Feminism, Complementarity, and the Church.
With the death of Kate O’Beirne on Sunday, which hit with the force of a terrible nightmare, the conservative movement has suffered a precipitous decline in its wit quotient. Kate’s was an outrageously quick wit, so often leaving one thinking — dammit, I wish I’d said that. Kate probably knew that and she was always the first to throw a struggling conversationalist a lifeline — but nobody could be as funny as Kate.
My first “dammit, I wish I’d said that” moment with Kate came the first time I ever talked to her. Elian Gonzales had just been sent back to Cuba by the Clinton administration. “I often thought how different it might have been if [Elian’s] extended family in Miami had been composed of two lesbians, who were taking care of Elian,” Kate mused in an interview for the Independent Women’s Forum’s old Women’s Quarterly. “And I bet Juan Miguel smokes. Do they appreciate that Janet Reno was sending Elian back to a father who smokes?”
In the same interview, Kate, a military wife, put her finger on the overlooked reason as to why women on the front lines in combat might not be such a good idea. “The most powerful argument against women in combat,” Kate said, “is not the relative physical strength. It’s that decent men protect women in the face of a physical threat.” Kate said that, if women were going to be sent into the thick of battle as combatants, mothers would have to raise their sons to hit girls.
Not one for sanctimony, Kate also admitted that she liked negative advertising. But don’t people always tell pollsters they hate it? “Well, of course, they’re supposed to say that,” Kate responded. Kate never soft pedaled her criticism of the ills visited upon society by the feminist movement. In fact, Kate entitled her book on feminist leaders Women Who Make the World Worse. No hemming and hawing there!
From an Irish-Catholic family and educated by nuns, Kate was a devout Catholic, unselfconscious in her devotion. She was witty even when discussing her faith and full of all sorts of tidbits (western women don’t join Mother Teresa’s order because the deprivation is just too great). Thus I consider it a particular generosity that Kate invited me to join her, Ann Corkery and others to become, as we dubbed ourselves, “Tiber Sisters.” In other words, we went to Rome! Kate is forever associated in my mind with the Eternal City. Two cherished memories: drinking copious wine with the Tiber Sisters and Monsignor Christopher Nalty on a balcony from which one could almost touch the saints on the Vatican colonnades, and Kate’s joking, when another charming monsignor led us all the way up to the loggia balcony from which popes bless the world and the city, that she’d step out on the balcony, except that the world wasn’t ready for a tall blonde pope. I wonder if Saint Peter already has made Kate editor of a magazine and she is using it to create more laughter in a new venue. But she will be sorely missed down here.
—Charlotte Hays director of cultural programs and senior editor at the Independent Women’s Forum. Most recently, she is the author of When Did White Trash Become the New Normal?
I met Kate when I moved here as a twentysomething girl from Alabama and was running Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum Washington, D.C., office. Like so many, I viewed Kate as larger than life and hung onto her every word. She was then and has continued to be my mentor, and over the years, I am happy to say, my friend. We all wanted to be like Kate . . . think like her, speak like her (with a southern accent of course), dress like her, cook like her, mother like her, and be a friend like her. While I want to express my gratitude for that friendship, putting my thoughts into writing has never been my strong suit, and if I were doing this for anyone else, I would draft my inarticulate but heartfelt thoughts and send them to Kate to “please look over.” They would come back from her with a “few tweaks” which of course really meant completely rewritten to transform my clumsy words into something witty and articulate.
Kate was an uber girlfriend. Dinner at Kate’s house was always a treat that went into wee hours where she dished out beautifully prepared and presented food and drink, as well as fun and many laughs. As a wife, mother, grandmother, and sister, all of Kate’s friends benefited from her family’s wisdom told to us by Kate and were amused by the cute things Charlotte or Henry said. There was no more loyal friend than Kate O’Beirne. I remember sitting in the Capital Hill club with her and a group of girlfriends one night when a male member of Congress who had been a jerk to me walked in. Kate said to us all, “Remind me why we don’t like him.” She had disdain for the kind of woman who liked to be the only one in a room full of men in the mistaken belief that her status would be boosted by being so singular. Kate pointed out that that kind of woman’s unwillingness to share responsibilities and credit with other women was evidence of real insecurity. She always reminded us that women don’t need (or want) the kind of preferences that mark us as not able to compete fairly with men, and that promoting women who are not qualified for a job is the worst kind of soft bigotry of low expectations. Kate never stopped helping her girlfriends. There are so many of us that she brought together because she understood the value of smart women helping each other and because she loved sharing her friends. Kate, I know you will edit this from Heaven and understand the love and gratitude I am trying to express. RIP
—Susan B. Hirschmann is CEO of Williams & Jensen.
Mildred Webber Holmes
Kate O’Beirne epitomized the qualities we cherish in a leader and friend. She was smart, driven, a woman of conservative conviction, and helpful to those younger in advancing their career. In fact, Kate would literally do anything for you, offer funny and witty insights in serious moments, and remained a great friend through the ups and downs of Washington politics and intrigue. She was loyal to her friends and respectful of those who disagreed with her.
Kate had a career that most people can only dream about. She impacted the country in every position she held, working in the White House, advocating conservative policy at a premiere and important think tank, and writing and communicating ideas during her years at National Review. It is hard to find another person who has made such a significant and meaningful impact on both preserving and advancing American exceptionalism. She loved America with its promise of freedom and liberty, and we are better for it.
Most people know Kate for her many television appearances, her writings in National Review, and her public persona. I knew her as a friend always caring about others more than herself. She was a woman who loved her husband and her family more than her career. And a loyal woman that always had time for a friend in need. Gone too soon.
—Mildred Webber Holmes Consultant for the House Republican Conference and the NRCC
Father Roger Landry
Kate O’Beirne was the wittiest woman I have ever known and one of the wisest. I had the honor to be invited for dinner to her home, but the times I will most remember were together with her on several pilgrimages for journalists in Rome. At meals, she had an extraordinary way of setting the mood with her humor. In meetings with Vatican officials, she would ask tough questions when they needed to be asked, but without offense. On visits to sacred sites, her interjections would always clue me in on when I might be overloading on details. In the late-night sessions on the balcony, she would masterly hold court in such a way that you just didn’t want to leave, no matter how tired you were, and no matter how much you couldn’t stand the cigarette smoke wafting from between her fingers. When she talked politics, she brought an experience and an incisive analysis that would make you grateful you had ears and feel privileged you were able to be in the presence of such an unpretentious master. And when she attended Mass, I was regularly moved by how humble, attentive and reverent Kate the Great would become. During our journeys, I would often remind the pilgrims that the point of a pilgrimage was to help us on the pilgrimage of life, not to the misnamed eternal city, but to the eternal Jerusalem. I am filled with hope that that’s where she now is, waiting for the rest of us to catch up.
— Father Roger J. Landry, Diocese of Fall River (MA), National Chaplain, Catholic Voices USA.
Kate O’Beirne was about as fierce a defender of virtue that you will ever see. She understood the corrupting influences that lurk about our nation’s capital and never hesitated to warn about them. She would “name and shame” the enablers of that poisonous environment with piercing wit, but would, as well, offer clear alternative paths for those in power in an effort to bolster good political leadership. Her attention to broader cultural issues — women’s issues, the family, political correctness — was refreshingly candid, often delightfully satirical, and, at the same time, always most instructive. She has been an inspiration to many a young conservative leader. All of this, though, never caused her to be self-righteous, self-promoting, or self-absorbed. She was humble, and often used her pen and her voice to bolster others. If you saw Kate O’Beirne at the center of a serious discussion or an entertaining dinner party, it was to make others think, or laugh, or be noticed, and, not, to draw attention to herself. So I suppose it should come as no surprise that Kate chose to pass from this world with only the closest of family and friends knowing about her battle with cancer, for it probably would have pained her more than the disease itself to be the subject of more attention, sympathy, and concern. Even more than her ideas, may we learn from Kate O’Beirne the importance of a living a life of humble service to that which is right and just.
—Leonard Leo serves as executive vice president of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies and chairman of the Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Kate O’Beirne was not only a great battle buddy in the political world, she was a great friend. It is an old saw that Harry S. Truman famously said “if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Too bad for ol’ Harry he didn’t know Kate Walsh O’Beirne because if she were his friend, he would have known what a friend is.
Here is one example out of hundreds I could give.
Kate and I shared a beautiful friendship with another woman who was dear to us both. The unnamed woman was about to send her dearly beloved last child off to college in Pennsylvania and was tearful about the prospective rite of passage.
So, ever ready to do something to help a pal, Kate and I arranged to meet our friend right after she dropped off her son and the three of us had a very merry ladies’ weekend visiting beautiful blooming gardens in Pennsylvania and Delaware, and stopping at a Downton Abbey costume exhibition. Nary a tear was shed.
Kate’s fine mixture of wit and perspective, her fierce faith in what she believed, her ability to take the measure of another person in about 30 seconds, her pure love for her family, friends, and country endeared her to me. But what made me love her was that she knew and shared what a friend is — how rare that is.
May her memory be a blessing to all who knew her.
—Barbara Ledeen is a longtime policy adviser.
Kate was the daughter of a man who ran a bar in Manhattan, and she was impossible to gull. She knew just how rotten people could be, and she saw the consequences with a clarity that most of us lack. That made her a real rarity in American journalism, someone whose antennae were always in sync with the world as it is, not as the professors claim. She had an uncanny knack for going to the heart of complicated issues, because her understanding of human nature was so solid.
Nonetheless, she was neither a pessimist nor a whiner, but a quick-witted and often hilarious fighter for the side of the angels. Her family reflected all this, and you will look far and wide before you find their equals. Those of us fortunate enough to have been her friends will often sing her praises, and wish we could be at her dinner table, laughing and enjoying her. Her memory is indeed a blessing.
—Michael Ledeen is Freedom Scholar at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
Certain reoccurring events bring special joy to Romans, whether the annual opening of the convent of Saint Francis of Rome, or private palazzi welcoming the first visitors in the spring. Kate O’Beirne’s annual Roman visits were one of those appearances that brightened the Eternal City. Her lanky figure, sauntering out in the Rome sunshine, rose above the vast crowds of tourists, pilgrims and citizens, like an angular Bernini statue. Despite her many, many visits to Rome, she never felt that she had “done” this or that and was always willing to re-visit old favorites, ever ready to look at the old sites with new eyes and to absorb ancient lessons with fresh ideas, or to inquire after hitherto unexplored hidden treasures. She had an insatiable appetite for the beauty, history and people of Rome, and her interest, her pointed questions and her astonishing memory of the things said years before kept me on my toes.
Kate was a close observer of the parallels between the ancient Roman culture and the modern world and many of her insights have become part of my tours and stories today. She loved the beauty of the Roman churches and never seemed to tire of Saint Mary Major or Saint John Lateran and the endless ways that faith and beauty intertwine. As I was working on a walk to celebrate fabulous women in Rome many years ago, Kate was one of the first test runs; taking an amazing woman around to talk about Rome’s great women inspired much of my future work in the field.
My favorite memory of Kate happened a very long time ago in Saint Peter’s Basilica, when I got into an altercation with one of the custodians. I was torn between finishing my tour with Kate and wanting to stand up to what had been a clear injustice. Kate sent me along to fight my battle and waited patiently for me to return. Hearing of my victorious encounter, she looked at me in that wonderful way of hers, and said “he was probably just looking for a date.” Classic Kate. She became part of the Eternal City, and where memories remain forever, we will miss her.
—Elizabeth Lev is an art historian in Rome.
I first encountered Kate O’Beirne on television, as a teen-aged political junky watching CNN in the ‘90s, and I thought that she must be an awfully intimidating presence in person. She was sharp, quick, and had no patience for BS.
But when I met Kate, and got to know her a bit, I realized that in person she was even more impressive precisely because she wasn’t intimidating.
She was one of the most persuasive people I’ve ever encountered because she would argue by putting you in her shoes as she became persuaded of something. She almost used humility as a weapon. She would engage in conversation by describing herself as just an observer who happened on the scene but was sure impressed with some of what she was hearing — just not all. After a few minutes of selective extravagant praise for some idea (and especially for the person delivering it) mixed very carefully with just a touch of keen, biting criticism for any alternatives, you found yourself utterly convinced she was right without ever really noticing that she had a strong opinion to begin with.
But that self-effacing way of engaging the world wasn’t for show. This was always what struck me most about Kate in person: It wasn’t about her. She didn’t stand in her own way, always blocking her view. She was focused outward in a way that’s all too rare, and this made her not only a supremely decent person but also an extremely good judge of situations and especially of people. She saw right through people, always ready with a short, witty, instant character profile — and not only of politicians. She had my kids’ personalities figured out the minute she met them.
Kate knew that everyone was only human, and so needed to be deflated when they got too puffed up (and boy was she good at that), but also lifted up when they fell too low. She had a keen sense of justice, a deep instinct for loyalty to her friends, and a joyous sense of humor, all rooted in her abiding Catholic faith.
I was lucky to know her. We were lucky to have her. But that only makes it harder to say goodbye. RIP.
—Yuval Levin is editor of National Affairs.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
This is a day I selfishly hoped would be far away.
And yet . . . Kate O’Beirne really believed those things we say we Catholics say we believe about God and faith and mercy and eternal life — it’s why she loved the Church and its teachings and its priests. She always drew people into her faith by her joy and she did it until the end, imitating in redemptive suffering Pope John Paul II on the anniversary of his own death, the Saturday after Easter, fading into Divine Mercy Sunday, drawing us deeper into the faith that believes Jesus Christ really won victory over death. It was very much like Kate to give us a fuller, deeper experience.
Some hospital rooms radiate grace and peace and hers did. In the shedding of tears and sharing of stories and coming together at a time like this there are so many graces.
Kate wasn’t just a colleague and friend, she became a part of everything, she made you a part of everything good. She made you better and want to be better. And evermore. She brought so many people to God — godmother to Judge Bork and Bob Novak, and our own beloved Ramesh Ponnuru, to name a few.
I can’t express my love for Kate adequately but I can pray . . . and what a grace she died on a day resplendent with prayer.
Countless numbers of people were touched by her respect and love and wisdom. Life will never be the same on earth without her friendship, but thanks be to God for her while we had her. When she loved you she opened Heaven up a little bit more in your life . . . I pray Heaven has opened for her. But good daughter of the Church she was, she would want very many Masses said for her so every Catholic who loved her had better not assume! If you read her, watched her, or were blessed by her in any ways, pray for the repose of her soul. She would have insisted on this.
—Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review. She first met Kate as a student at the Catholic University of America interning at the Heritage Foundation, where Kate was vice president of Government Relations.
Kate Dwyer Matus
I worked for Kate from 1998-2000 at National Review’s Washington office and remember with gratitude how much fun it was and how she looked for opportunities to help those around her.
One example that touched me directly was when she suggested that I travel to the Vatican as a volunteer for the Great Jubilee of 2000 through a program organized by the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops. It was typical of Kate that she encouraged me to do this — to make the trip to Rome for the first time in my life and take this chance to deepen my Catholic faith. Thanks to her, I found myself ringing in the year 2000 with hospitable Italians, witnessing the opening of the Holy Door at Saint Peter’s, and taking in the timeless landscape near the catacombs where I was stationed with other volunteers for a few days.
Faith, family, and friends were of paramount importance to Kate. She clearly enjoyed her work, particularly the lively exchange of ideas at which she excelled, but it never consumed her. Work-life balance? She had that covered. If she had an ego at all, I never saw her indulge it.
For all the grief she gave left-wing feminists, she was perhaps the ultimate true feminist role model: a strong, poised, whip-smart lady who did not shy away from expressing “inconvenient” truths. We are blessed to have known her.
—Kate Dwyer Matus lives in Washington, D.C.
Andrew C. McCarthy
About 10 years ago, I was in Washington at a National Review Institute dinner for young conservatives. A very prominent Capitol Hill Republican entered the restaurant and came by to give a few “impromptu” remarks — nothing ever really seemed impromptu when a pol when out of his way to show up at something Kate O’Beirne was hosting.
Ingratiating himself with the friendly audience, he began by reporting, “I was a Kate O’Beirne fan before it was cool.”
“Thanks,” Kate the Great quipped, “but it was always cool.”
It was always cool.
Kate was one of the smartest, keenest, brashest, kindest people I have had the privilege to know. And the fact that she was all those things and a proud, wear-it-on-her-sleeve conservative, gave the people in her orbit an adrenaline-blast of confidence that we were on the right side and that it was fun to be on the right side.
I had been reading National Review for decades — in college, as a government lawyer in New York — before I began writing for NR, so I was already in awe of Kate before I met her. When that happened, I found that in addition to being everything I knew she was — one of the best-informed, best-connected, clearest-thinking political analysts in Washington — she also turned out to be one of the most gracious, down-to-earth people I’d ever know.
She treated me as if I were the celebrity (Kate had a way of making her friends feel that way). She embraced me, invited me to sit with her wonderful, hilarious family at events, introduced me to people who figured I must be okay if I was with Kate, and as much as anyone made me see what it was like to be a happy warrior in a good cause. To be around Kate and Jim, the Irish-American embodiment of tough-as-nails charm, was to witness a devout, loving couple live their faith with conviction and ease. I am ever grateful for their example and friendship, which included opening their home for a party to celebrate the publication of my first book.
Kate was one of a kind. She can never be replaced, but we are so much the better because of her. Requiescat in pace.
— Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior policy fellow at the National Review Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.
Editor’s Note: U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY) made the following remarks today on the Senate floor mourning O’Beirne’s passing:
Over the weekend we lost one of conservatism’s most insightful journalists with the passing of Kate O’Beirne.
Kate was long a leading voice for conservative principles, and she served as a mentor to so many along the way.
In a town full of class presidents and big shots, Kate never hesitated to help someone who was new to Washington or down on their luck.
She was fiercely devoted to her country, to her faith, and to her family — including her husband Jim, her two sons Phil and John, her sisters, and her grandchildren. And beyond her immediate family, Kate helped foster a family at National Review with her wit, warmth, and compassion.
As her family, friends, and many others across the nation mourn her loss today, we wish them comfort in this trying time.
As anyone who knew Kate can attest, her impact will not soon be forgotten.
When I think of iconic conservative women, I think of Kate O’Beirne. Tall and glamorous with an unmatched wit, Kate was also incredibly kind. I will never forget seeing her the day after I did primetime television for the first time, speaking out against the Obama administration’s HHS mandate. When Kate saw me across the room, she pointed a polished finger at me and said sternly, “You!” She then pulled me in laughing for a hug and told me she couldn’t have been more proud.
Kate selflessly helped to build up a generation of young conservative women; she was kind enough to endorse the back of my book when blurbs were hard to come by from busy pundits. Though her death comes as a shock, she most certainly won’t be forgotten. Rather, an entire generation of women she influenced will press on, thanks to her, unafraid to be conservative and proud to bring our femininity to the fight.
—Ashley McGuire is a senior fellow with The Catholic Association and the author of Sex Scandal: The Drive to Abolish Male and Female.
Kate O’Beirne was a bad influence on me. Which is why I loved her.
Others have written about how infectious Kate’s laughter was. And it got me through many a tedious dinner, not to mention four hours of baking in an unforgiving Roman sun on the steps of Saint Peter’s waiting for then-pope Benedict to appear. It was always fun, but fun in the way my grade for conduct in 8th grade plummeted from A to D after I was seated next to a more convivial classmate.
Most Americans will remember her for her appearances on Capital Gang — and rightly so. She was the spark, principled but resolutely gracious. What I remember is that during my time in the White House, she and her husband opened their home to me, my wife, Julie and our three daughters. Most of the time this involved a swim in their pool (which Jim informed me he never went in) followed by steaks cooked up on the O’Beirne grill. In addition, my wife and I have a special reminder of Kate: Earlier this week we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary, with my wife wearing the engagement ring I was able to afford only because Kate had given me a commission from the Heritage Foundation for a project.
And she was a mother. The focus on her accomplishments might blind people to this side of her. Both of her boys went into service: Phil in the United States Army, John as a police officer. When people say there are no good men around today, they should take a look at the boys Kate and Jim raised. And when you were around her, you always left feeling a little more grateful for your blessings than when you got there. That was her way.
A witty and persuasive voice for conservative principles; a wife, mother, and grandmother who relished each of these roles; and a fellow sinner who always recognized that the most important life is the life to come. All in all, not a bad ticket to carry into eternity. God bless, my friend.
—William McGurn is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board.
From the moment I met her a few years ago, Kate O’Beirne blew me away. As others have noted, she pulled people out of corners. I didn’t know her as well as I would’ve liked, and yet felt she would’ve done anything for me. Like a mother, she spent an hour on the phone with me once to talk about our son’s school. Last spring, at a party to promote the launch of Mary Eberstadt’s last book, she walked me around her home introducing me to everyone as if I were a guest of honor. She joked that she was introducing me to “The Remnant.” There was always truth in her jokes. She was funny. She had an enormous personality, and yet was constantly putting others before herself. She never talked about her achievements or struggles. She wanted to know how she could help you achieve, and alleviate any disadvantage. I only recently learned that she was a regular on CNN’s Capital Gang, and I only recently learned that she was carrying within her a great battle against lung cancer. Kate made you feel you were more important. She reminded me of my own beautiful, tough-as-nails Catholic grandmother who could, like the mother of Jesus, make sure that the best wine was being served at the party, as well as suffer silently with Christ on his Cross, all the while constantly interceding for her son’s friends. Saint Thomas Aquinas writes about a grandmother who never talks about the faith, but knows it in her bones, by going to mass, by works of mercy, by praying the rosary. Without ever reading Saint Augustine or the Councils or papal teaching, Saint Thomas comments that “under an aspect” she knows more than the theologians. She knows what the saints know. I am certain that God was confirming for us all, by taking her on Divine Mercy Sunday, that she is well and truly a saint who will continue to intercede for her friends. May God’s perpetual light, which she reflected to us in this life, shine upon her in eternal happiness and joy.
—C.C. Pecknold is a theology professor at The Catholic University of America.
I knew Kate’s writing and work on Capital Gang well before I ever met her. She helped shape my point of view just when I needed it most. I never thought I’d ever have the chance to meet her let alone call her a friend. But life gives you unexpected gifts like that. Beyond her brilliant mind, logical argumentation, and beautiful writing, Kate O’Beirne was a natural mentor, especially to young conservative women who were trying to figure out if you could actually be a conservative and a woman and make it in D.C. She didn’t wait for us to come to her to ask for guidance; rather, she sought us out. In a meeting with President Bush for conservative writers, she would make it clear with a little comment and a wink that she totally got where you were coming from or what you were thinking. I learned from her that succeeding in Washington didn’t mean having to live on the cocktail circuit, and that being myself was smart and safe. She celebrated the success of others, constantly leading and, in some ways, mothering those of us who looked to her for guidance. I’ve always wanted to be more like Kate, a woman of exceptional character, intellect, and love. Rest in peace, Kate O’Beirne, rest in peace.
—Dana Perino is former White House press secretary for President George W. Bush and co-host of The Five.
Everyone knew Kate. She was famous, of course, in the way that people can only dream of being in Washington. There wasn’t anyone who wouldn’t take her call or do her a favor. Instantly recognizable at nearly six feet tall, blonde, and dressed to the nines, she was one of the most attractive women I ever knew. Her personality was magnetic: a lively voice, quick wit, and razor-sharp intellect. But it was her kindness and genuine interest in people that set her apart in a self-serving town.
For nearly 17 years, Kate was my closest friend and constant companion. She played a role in securing every job I ever had, including several wonderful years working directly for her. We rarely went a day without communicating: She was my sounding board and confidant. My young daughters knew that when Mrs. O’Beirne called, they had at least an hour of unsupervised playtime. We laughed a lot, too. Kate was one of the funniest people in Washington, and she never took herself too seriously (we found it hysterical when we graced the centerfold of The New York Times Magazine in a rather ridiculous photo a few years ago, the only time we would be able to call ourselves centerfolds!). Like any doting mother, she shared recipes and sent me links to clothes and jewelry I had to buy and books I had to read. We traveled together — on many, many National Review cruises, and separately to Rome. We threw parties together. We cooed over photos of my girls and her grandkids (ever private but always nosy, she would log into Facebook under my account for years). She gave me invaluable parenting advice, and encouraged me as a mother at my lowest points.
Much will be written about Kate’s generosity — she was always eager to help or give someone else the credit. She had a special love for priests, and they were often guests in her home or, tight on funds, sent to Rome on her dime (“He gave his life for the Church, the least I can do is get him to Rome! I made sure he had some money for cappuccinos, too, because no one should be moping around Rome and not be able to stop for a cappuccino.”) She had the gift of friendship, and she gave freely of her time to encourage us. But more than that, she engendered a spirit of love and camaraderie among all her girlfriends (“April, how much do we love Barbara?”). Any woman who reads this tribute will know just how unusual that is. And she truly believed in all of us. She thought we should be running everything, no matter what it was. Even with all of her accomplishments, she always made us feel better about ourselves. Lord knows how many risks I took because Kate believed in me. And she taught me, in that Irish way of hers, that you always do right by people, that you always go to the funeral.
I am grieving the loss of my dearest friend. But I thank God for the perfect gift of my precious Kate, and recall with gratitude and humility how blessed I am that she chose to love me.
Rest in peace.
—April Ponnuru is a senior advisor at the Conservative Reform Network. This entry is an excerpt from a longer tribute at the Washington Examiner.
Kate was charismatic, hilarious, beautiful, regal, and brilliant. But more importantly, she was kind and thoughtful beyond measure. A few years ago, we were in Rome and our group was scheduled to tour the Scavi, a labyrinth of cave-like rooms under the Vatican. As a life-long claustrophobic, I knew this tour was out of the question for me. Kate confided that she too was claustrophobic but hadn’t had any problems with the Scavi tour. To prove how little there was to worry about, she offered to come with me.
As it turns out, Kate was lying about the Scavi not being claustrophobia inducing. As soon as we entered, by heart was in my throat and I was on the verge of hyperventilating. But Kate stayed near my side cracking jokes and calming me as I made it through an hour-long life-altering tour that set me on a path toward Catholicism. I told this story to a mutual friend earlier this week and she marveled at it because, she said, Kate was indeed incredibly claustrophobic.
This was the kind of person Kate was: always thinking of other people even if it meant facing down a fear of her own.
Kate was also famously quick with a one liner or funny story. A few weeks before I joined the Catholic Church, Kate quipped to a fellow cradle-Catholic we were dining with, “The best part of this is that Kirsten is an evangelical, so she will be a Catholic who actually knows what the Bible says.” Kate loved to rib the Catholics, remembering how the nuns at her high school used to warn the girls not to walk home alone at night, because, “you could be murdered – or worse.”
She joked because she loved. The Catholic Church was a guiding light in her life. Kate’s deep and profound devotion to God was normally understated but now and then it would pull me up short. I remember a dinner at her house where after keeping us all in stitches with her Washington stories, she suddenly leaned in intently and asked me, “How did you come to know Our Lord?” These are not the deep questions one usually gets at Washington dinner parties.
One evening over drinks, Kate divulged to our group that her nickname in high school was “Kate the Great.” It may have been possible, she added, that she was in fact the one who coined the phrase. Either way, it stuck. But Kate wasn’t just great. She was the greatest. Knowing her will go down as one of the most wonderful blessings of my life.
RIP Kate the Great.
—Kirsten Powers is the author of The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech and a CNN analyst.
There are influential people — plenty of them in Washington, D.C. — who influence policy, programs, and even nations.
Then there are people who truly influence people, who are so meaningful to another’s life that the private relationship seems more important than any public accomplishment.
Kate O’Beirne was both. She was a huge success in advancing conservative ideas, and she was personally influential with those around her. I am blessed to have been profoundly affected by Kate the person and not just the public actor. For me, Kate will forever be remembered for her generosity, wisdom, guidance, confidence, drive, and good-heartedness.
In a word, what I honor most in Kate is her humanity. She’s the kind of person I want to be. It is in her role as model and mentor that I think she will be remembered by so many others, too. Upon her death, I heard immediately from friends who were profoundly affected by her during their college years and afterward.
Kate seemed to relish the opportunity to shepherd the careers and lives of young people. This was especially true of young Catholic conservatives, in whom she detected both the sensibility of political conservatism and appreciation for the higher wisdom of the Catholic faith.
My own experience with Kate began as a government relations intern at the Heritage Foundation, when she was vice president. Most applicants for the internship were surely more impressive than I, but Kate deliberately chose me, because I had fought for Catholic, conservative principles at my Jesuit university. She later helped me secure another wonderfully formative opportunity at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference with her husband Jim, also a wonderful person who has greatly impacted me personally as well as in my career.
At Heritage and afterward, Kate helped me better understand the crisis of our age and more firmly resolve to improve my university, my culture, and my Church. Without her influence, it’s difficult to imagine ever having the opportunity or gaining the confidence and determination to become a leader in pro-life efforts, to embark on my life’s work at the Cardinal Newman Society, or even to seek and marry the right woman. Kate and Jim attended my wedding and those of others they mentored, a clear display of personal commitment and genuine concern for the lives they touched.
Perhaps my reflection is too personal, but it’s precisely the person that I want to honor in Kate. She did God’s work in the lives of many young people, helping shape and direct them. In her work, Kate was influential as a champion for American ideals, which began with the conviction that God wants us to be fully human and it is by His wisdom that we are truly free. In her relationships, Kate helped form that conviction in others. She accomplished so much for the cause of true conservatism by exhibiting the humanity to which we should all aspire.
—Patrick Reilly is president of the Cardinal Newman Society.
As you have surely heard already, Kate O’Beirne was elegance and grace. She was also beautiful, kind, and extremely witty. Her policy sense and innate understanding of politics was matched by few. She was also a model to all of those who opine about the news. To television audiences she represented a special face of conservatism — not strident or offensively partisan — known instead for its charm, its kindness, its likeability, its impeccable logic, and its ability to convince others.
We will all miss Kate on so many levels.
—Veronique Rodman is director of public affairs at the American Enterprise Institute.
Representative Paul Ryan
Kate O’Beirne was an incredible influence for me. She was one of my mentors, long before I thought about running for office. When I was just a young staffer and she was at the Heritage Foundation, I sought her out for all the wisdom she was willing to offer. She would always listen, and go back and forth on whatever I wanted to talk about. This is someone who clearly relished the battle of ideas, and could size up an argument with ease. But it was how she did it that really set her apart. For all her brilliance, there was no arrogance about Kate, just this sharp wit that you really wanted to emulate. She instilled in me and a whole generation of conservatives the importance of being unafraid. I am honored that I could call her a friend. I will always look to her example for guidance.
—Representative Paul Ryan (R., Wisc.) is the speaker of the House.
After I was elected to the senate it didn’t take us long to determine that the only way to stay a tight-knit family was bringing the kids to northern Virginia. Not surprisingly the key to surviving that painful transition was our church. We found a parish with a truly great pastor who brought the gospel alive to me and Karen. It started a journey that brought us fully into the church, but that wasn’t the only blessing I received from going to mass on Sunday.
Over the years this dynamic parish occasionally attracted other conservatives including activists, journalists, members of Congress, and even two Supreme Court justices. Of all of the notables, there was one that I couldn’t help but notice was in attendance. She, her husband Jim, and their two boys stood out in the congregation. At over six feet tall they physically stood out, but at a time when the term “Sunday best” lost its meaning, the O’Beirnes were always in “church clothes.” On those Sundays I knew the homily wasn’t the only insight Karen and I were going to receive that morning.
I had met Kate and was aware of her work at Heritage and on TV and in print, but this is how I got to know Kate. From all my interactions there was no public Kate and private Kate. She loved her faith, her family, and her country, and was deeply engaged in all three all the time. She was the Kate we all saw in front of the camera so aptly described in many of the tributes published on NRO — smart, witty, curious, opinionated, — in short, just so fun to be around.
As a relative newbie to D.C., she seemed to know everyone and everything that was going on in Washington, how things worked or used to work, why they didn’t and how they could again. It was always entertaining, but rarely chatty. In my encounters with Kate there was always a point to the banter. She was driven by her belief that America was a work in progress and we were integral to that progress. Even after mass there were always multiple questions about politics, policy, or faith, followed by an equal number of challenges to my answers usually ending in a “that’s right” or a grunt followed by a wry smile. Walking away, I always felt like the pencil not the sharpener and for that I will ever be grateful to her.
May eternal rest be granted unto you and let perpetual light shine upon you.
— Rick Santorum is a former United States senator from Pennsylvania.
Bernadette Malone Serton
If Kate O’Beirne was your introduction to conservative women in Washington, as she was this 1995 intern’s, your first impression of them was formed: accomplished and kind; passionate and fair; maternal and logical; beautiful and tough. Kate modeled the best of our gender and of our movement, and we will never forget her.
—Bernadette Malone Serton is book director at the Manhattan Institute. She was editor of Kate’s book Women Who Made the World Worse.
Reverend Robert A. Sirico
I feel like I have always known Kate O’Beirne, so the passing of this women of keen intellect, sharp wit, and fearless rhetoric in confronting the nostrums of our day leaves me feeling very, very sad. It is painfully sad to think that the occasions of sharing National Review cruises or panel discussions with her or having her emcee several Acton Institute annual dinners will be no more.
Perhaps the most memorable of these occasions was when I invited Kate to emcee the 20th Anniversary of the Institute. Part of her role was to introduce the person who would introduce me, namely my actor-brother Tony Sirico, most well known as “Paulie Walnuts” on The Sopranos. Their combo was a tour de force ornamented with the perfect cadence of classic New York accents all around (and this in Grand Rapids!). See Kate’s performance here.
Among the thoughts running through my mind when I first learned that Kate was dying was her preternatural graciousness. Perhaps it was her no-nonsense charm endeared her to me, making me feel like we grew up together. Kate’s style exhibited someone long comfortable in her own skin.
The difference between her Irish-Catholic background and my own working-class Italian roots were not a gap, but a bridge, even an alliance, between us. Kate’s tongue and pen could be sharp, always intended not to injure an ideological opponent (at least not usually), but to prick intellectual holes in false arguments, rendering the debate more focused than when it began. To disagree with Kate was to receive a lesson in personal class, wisdom, learning, character, and humor.
The more I was in the presence of Kate’s approach, the more I admired her. In the end, Kate, like one of her heroes, was a Happy Warrior more interested in winning hearts and minds (not necessarily in that order) than in eviscerating the opposition. Our cause would be well served by more exactly like her. RIP, Kate.
—Reverend Robert A. Sirico is a Roman Catholic priest as well as president and founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty headquartered in Grand Rapids, Mich.
I can do no better than to endorse the many beautiful tributes to the extraordinary Kate O’Beirne that have already been written, including those by Ramesh Ponnuru, April Ponnuru (above), and Mona Charen. But let me offer a few observations.
When I first entered the outer orbit of the National Review world a dozen years ago, Kate had long been a dazzling star whom I had admired from afar. I might well have been daunted to approach her. But Kate instead generously befriended me. I immediately discovered how delightful, intelligent, and down to earth she was. I’m so grateful that my wife and I had many occasions over the years to talk and laugh with Kate (including at the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s 40th-anniversary gala just last year, which she highlighted with lavishly celebratory remarks punctuated by her wry humor). How I wish for one time more.
Some years ago, I took part in an amazing program in Rome — a sort of deeper look at the Vatican — for a group of twelve or so journalists. (I happily endured the label for the sake of the trip.) Kate was one of the leaders of the program. Over the course of a week, we visited the great basilicas of Rome, toured the Scavi and the Sistine Chapel, met with Vatican officials, had every meal together, and attended Mass each day at sites from the crypt of Saint Peter’s to the catacombs. Although Kate had done it all before, her joy and awe were fresh. She combined a humble reverence for that which deserved revering with a withering irreverence for that which didn’t.
More broadly, Kate’s deeply Catholic sensibility infused her life. The “tough broad” pose she sometimes feigned sheltered her gentle heart. She found and shared amusement in the foibles that we imperfect human beings all have, even as she loved others with (and not merely despite) our many faults. She put her ultimate faith not in the things of this world but in those of the next.
May Kate’s soul rest in peace, and may her beloved husband Jim, their two sons she adored, and her extended family be consoled in their grief.
—Ed Whelan is president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a regular contributor to National Review’s Bench Memos blog.
Kate made us laugh.
In a city that is overpopulated with humorless egos, Kate broke the mold. She was connected. She was wise. She was insightful. She was actually all of the things that many in D.C act as if they are, but she never made us feel that we were her subordinates or ever condescended — even when she was our boss.
I loved every day going to work when Kate was my boss. She would provide me insights and clarity amidst the confusion. She motivated me to advance the cause of ideas in which she believed so deeply. But Kate kept it all in perspective — she grasped all of the absurdities and the frailties in a deeply human way. And she laughed, and we laughed.
She made the fight joyful. As others have also expressed, I will also miss her kindness, her intelligence, her Irish wit, and her graciousness. But most of all, our own Happy Warrior is no longer with us.
It’s tough today to laugh through my tears.
—Marshall Wittmann worked with Kate at the Heritage Foundation.
In almost every remembrance I’ve read about Kate, people have spoken of her role in mentoring young conservatives who were blessed to cross her path. I was one of those. I had many interactions with Kate over the years, sometimes it was interviewing her on a policy panel, other times it was enjoying her company at a social event — and those events were always much more social, and fun, thanks to her attendance. But one interaction in particular will always stand out for me.
I had been in Washington for five years and questioning whether it was time to move on. Such a predicament is common for people in their mid-twenties, but what isn’t so common, despite all the folks in D.C. who love offering their advice, is a wise person who takes the time to help you think through such things. Perhaps it was because she had always been so friendly when I saw her, I decided she just might be one of those people. I was right.
I can still remember, sitting in her office at National Review above the old Trover bookstore on Pennsylvania Avenue, how intently she listened and what good questions she asked. She thought I had a gift for communicating (which meant the world to me because I admired that very gift in her) and she encouraged me to stay in Washington because, she said, “Heaven knows our side can use it!”
But Kate wasn’t just an encourager, she was a doer. I was not back at my office more than 15 minutes when the phone rang. It was Cliff May who then headed the communications shop at the Republican National Committee. He said, “I just got a call from Kate O’Beirne and she told me I needed to hire you. So, how about it?”
Today, 20 years later, I look back on my communications and media work that has spanned the spectrum of conservative organizations and causes, and I think about that half-hour Kate took to listen and advise and encourage. What a difference she made in my life. And what a difference she made in so many others.
—Genevieve Wood is senior fellow in Communications and Senior Contributor, the Daily Signal.