Four score and seven years ago, a father and mother brought forth William A. Rusher. And on Saturday, April 16, he perished from the Earth. In the days between, he was one of the architects of the American Right. For 31 years, he published National Review, in the same Manhattan offices where William F. Buckley Jr. edited the conservative fortnightly. Rusher unflaggingly promoted Barry Goldwater for president in 1964. After 16 years and a new birth of freedom, Ronald Reagan rose like a phoenix from the embers of the Arizona senator’s unsuccessful bid, in no small part thanks to Bill Rusher’s labor.
While American conservatives and free-marketeers mourn the loss of one of our most dedicated and talented advocates and organizers, gentlemen and ladies of all persuasions should lament the departure of a grand old man who possessed a grace and refinement seldom seen these days. In an age when unshaven airline passengers cannot be bothered to tuck in their dirty T-shirts, Rusher’s counterexample glistened. Until he was well into his retirement, I never saw him without a tightly knotted tie that brightened a perfectly pressed and buttoned jacket. His monogrammed shirts bore his initials: WAR. His manners, dress, and demeanor were impeccable.
We never worked together, nor did we jointly trudge through New Hampshire’s snows on behalf of any candidate. Our entire relationship consisted of meeting for leisurely lunches and dinners from when I, a young Reaganite, met him at the 1983 Conservative Political Action Conference, through last October 15, when I saw him for the final time. Rusher was a true epicure who effortlessly navigated among exquisite clubs, exclusive restaurants, and excellent wine lists.
The author meets William A. Rusher at the 1983
Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
In the spring of 1985, Rusher invited me to the Sea Grill abutting the Rockefeller Center ice rink. While skaters sped past our table, and the flags of the world breezily snapped on masts above us, he coached me on how to handle Phil Donahue’s TV show the next morning. The long-time liberal host planned a program around yours truly, Armstrong Williams, Robert Woodson, and the late Kimi Gray — all members of an exotic new species that the media just had discovered: black conservatives.
In September 1987, soon after I moved to New York to earn my MBA at NYU, Rusher hosted me for lunch at Le Grenadin, a French bistro in Murray Hill. At age 23, I first spotted salade niçoise on a menu. “Hey, Bill, what’s this salad NICK-o-see,” I asked, manhandling the unfamiliar word. “Nee-SWAHZ, Deroy. Nee-SWAHZ,” Rusher corrected me. That’s the last time I made that mistake.
In late December 1991, we enjoyed lunch in the Crown Room, on the 24th floor of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. On a perfectly crisp day, we absorbed the sunshine and the spectacular view and celebrated a very special occasion. We lifted our glasses to the disunion of the Soviet Union. That evening, the hammer-and-sickle flag was lowered for the last time over the Kremlin, and the USSR went “Poof!” Neither of us had imagined that we would witness such a thing, or that it would happen so peacefully. Of course, Rusher’s decades of anti-Communism had helped speed that event, with the sanguine results that we toasted that afternoon.
Rusher traveled the world. He was a frequent visitor to Taiwan and South Africa, among many destinations. He also was terribly enamored of Lake Como, Italy — one of Earth’s five most beautiful spots.
However, he refused to pierce the Iron Curtain. Why not? I asked. He responded rather indignantly: “We are at war with these people, Deroy!”
I also watched him briskly walk out of a speech by a Chinese diplomat named Ting at a conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.. “I don’t see the need to be lectured to about freedom by Mr. Dingaling,” he huffed, before stepping out to puff a cigar.
Rusher was a life-long opera aficionado. When he was 16, his mother took him to the Metropolitan Opera House at its old home at Broadway and 40th Street. He was moved deeply by the performance of coloratura soprano Lily Pons in Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. “It’s still my favorite opera,” he told me. “I could practically sing it. I could, if I could sing.”
Rusher was no big fan of rock music, although he surprised me a few years ago by recalling that a young friend once played him the Beatles’ classic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He described it as “not bad.”