A Toast to Bill Rusher
Delivered at an event celebrating the retirement of William A. Rusher, on board the Empress of New York, Dec. 9, 1987.


William F. Buckley Jr.

Bill’s fastidious habits gave him an enormous advantage over the rest of us. There was never, for instance, any such phenomenon as an unanswered memorandum from William A. Rusher, and if his future associates in California think it works to say absent-mindedly, “I never got that memorandum, Bill” — forget it, as I did, after trying it once thirty years ago, only to be reminded that I had received it in the presence of 14 editors and three photographers. So much is our publisher the creature of habit that, he once confessed to me, on entering the washroom he reaches up to pull down the light-cord; and if it should happen that by mistake the previous patron of the washroom left the light on, why Mr. Rusher turns it off before he can control his reflex action, thus finding himself, as he does several times a year, in total darkness, and without practical recourse to his secretary. Occasionally his admirers show their envy of him, as when, while he was away on a lecture tour, we tiptoed into his office and exactly reversed every reversible physical accoutrement. Thus the picture of Lincoln now hung where the picture of Washington had hung for time immemorial; and the picture of Washington hung where the picture of Lincoln had hung. Thus when he depressed Button One, instead of the bookkeeper, his secretary answered; and when he depressed Button Two, the bookkeeper, not his secretary, answered. And when he turned over the leaves of his calendar, he found himself moving not toward the end of the month but toward the beginning of the month; and when he opened the drawer where his graphs were kept he found not his graphs but his pills; and so on. At which point, rising above it all, he got up to leave the room. We had tried hard to substitute the door leading out of his office for the door leading into his bathroom, but found the problem was metaphysically insoluble. So he left, returned to his apartment, telephoned his secretary on the outside line, issued a few crisp instructions, and retired to his club for the rest of the day, pending the restoration of order.

Such have been his tribulations at National Review. Yet it should not surprise that his colleagues rallied so enthusiastically to the idea of coming together to celebrate his achievements and his person on the eve of his retirement from National Review. The most exasperating people in the world are so often the most beloved, and he is no exception. Sometimes, at the fortnightly editorial conference, to which he descends with his notebook and his clippings, to pour vitriol on the ideologically feeble — sometimes he looks about him and, no doubt, feels as Congressman Rich felt surveying the expressions of those whom he would now summon to fiscal rectitude. But his performance at those meetings is one of the great running performances on the ideological stage. His scorn is not alone for those in public life whose activities during the week he finds contemptible, but also for those who lag a bit behind in exhibiting similar scorn. For them — especially if they are his colleagues — his scorn is especially withering. “I notice,” he wrote me once after enduring an editorial conference during my absence and running hard into the opposition of some of our younger colleagues, “I notice the difficulty in planting my views against the opposition of Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith sitting at the opposite end of the table. I find that Merrill seldom disagrees with Lynch, who seldom disagrees with Pierce, who always disagrees with me. Perhaps you will find an opportunity to suggest a good basic reading list to our younger members.” But all is not lost; all is never lost; though there is in front of us the quite unendurable thought of next week’s editorial conference without Bill Rusher, next month’s financial crisis without Bill Rusher, 1990’s election without Bill Rusher. But although it will be elsewhere, Bill will be marching on, gyroscopically certain, ever in command of himself, whether communicating his pleasure, or registering his doubts, or metronomically tut-tutting his disapproval. Always a presence, always a performance; and always — I speak for myself and for those who know him best — a friend to whom we are all grateful. I give you Bill Rusher.


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