Editor’s Note: This eulogy was delivered on the occasion of the Memorial Mass for the Repose of the Soul of William F. Buckley Jr. on April 4, 2008, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
We talked about this day, he and I, a few years ago. He said to me, “If I’m still famous, try to convince the Cardinal to do the service at St. Patrick’s. If I’m not, just tuck me away in Stamford.”
Well, Pup, I guess you’re still famous.
I’d like to thank Cardinal Egan and Msgr. Ritchie of the archdiocese for their celestial hospitality, and Fr. Rutler for his typically gracious words. I’d also like to thank Dr. Jennifer Pascual, musical director of St. Patrick’s, as well as the St. Patrick’s Cathedral Choir, and organists Donald Dumler and Rick Tripodi for such beautiful music.
Pope Benedict will be saying Mass here in two weeks. I was told that the music at this Mass for my father would, in effect, be the dress rehearsal for the Pope’s. I think that would have pleased him, though doubtless he’d have preferred it to be the other way around.
I do know he’d have been pleased, amidst the many obituaries and tributes, by the number of editorial cartoons that depicted him at the Pearly Gates. One showed St. Peter groaning, “I’m going to need a bigger dictionary.” If I disposed of the cartoonist’s skills, I might draw one showing a weary St. Peter greeting the Fed Ex man, “Let me guess — another cover story on Mr. Buckley?”
My mother is no longer with us, so we can only speculate as to how she might react to these depictions of her husband of 56 years arriving in Paradise so briskly. My sense is that she would be vastly amused.
On the day he retired from Firing Line after a 33-year long run, Nightline (no relation) did a show to mark the occasion. At the end, Ted Koppel said, “Bill, we have one minute left. Would you care to sum up your 33 years in television?” To which my father replied, “No.”
Taking his cue, I won’t attempt to sum him up in my few minutes here. A great deal has been written and said about him in the month since he died, at his desk, in his study in Stamford. After I’d absorbed the news, I sat down to compose an e-mail. My inner English major ineluctably asserted itself and I found myself quoting (misquoting, slightly) a line from Hamlet,
He was a man, Horatio, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
One of my first memories of him was of driving up to Sharon, Connecticut for Thanksgiving. It would have been about 1957. He had on the seat between us an enormous reel-to-reel tape recorder. For a conservative, my old man was always on the cutting edge of the latest gadgetry — despite the fact that at his death, he was almost certainly the only human being left on the planet who still used Word Star.
It was a recording of MacBeth. My five-year old brain couldn’t make much sense of it. I asked him finally, “What’s eating the queen?” He explained about the out-out-damned spot business. I replied, “Why doesn’t she try Palmolive?” So began my tutelage with the world’s coolest mentor.
It was on those drives to Sharon that we had some of our best talks. This afternoon, I’ll make one last drive up there to bury him, alongside with his sisters in the little cemetery by the brook. When we held the wake for him some days after he died, I placed inside his casket a few items to see him across the River Styx: his favorite rosary, the TV remote control — private joke — a jar of peanut butter, and my mother’s ashes. I can hear her saying, “Bill — what is that disgusting substance leaking all over me?” No pharaoh went off to the afterlife better equipped than he does.