Priscilla went sailing, cruising, barging, ballooning, and golfing many times, but I accompanied her on her first whitewater-rafting trip.
It was the summer of 1976. I was a cub reporter and editorialist for the Charleston Daily Mail, the largest newspaper in West Virginia, earning some money to help pay for my junior year at Harvard. Bill Buckley and I were already friends, very unequal friends to be sure, having met three years before when I interviewed him for my high school newspaper. We corresponded regularly, and I visited him in Stamford one or two weekends every semester. I hatched a plan to reciprocate his hospitality by inviting him to join me in a rafting trip down the New River, through the steep, lush canyons of south-central West Virginia near my home town. In my youthful naiveté I invited his wife Pat, too.
He accepted immediately, scanned his calendar for a date, and gently broke the news that Pat didn’t do that kind of thing but he’d like to bring his sister Pitts along for the fun. I picked them up at the Charleston airport one humid July evening, commencing my friendship with Priscilla in the best possible way: on an adventure. By the time we got home, we were conspiring over the next day’s trip like old hands.
Did I mention the Buckleys were staying with my mother and me? For Oak Hill (population: 4,711), this was a major event, like a royal visit. It was a big event for the Keslers, too, but Priscilla and Bill couldn’t have been more gracious. A quick round of snacks and drinks and then to bed, because we had an early morning the next day.
You put into the river at 7:30, and emerge from it around 4:30. In between you bounce between rapids of gradually increasing intensity, finishing the day with a crescendo of several class fours and fives, the biggest navigable whitewater on an eastern river. In those days only one company ran the river, Wildwater Unlimited, and it used big double-hulled rubber rafts, which had to be paddled to get safely around the rocks and through the rapids. I sat near the prow, Bill directly behind me, and Priscilla serenely on one of the raft’s crossbars, away from the crashing waves.
What fun! Paddling away, I was once or twice knocked off my perch by a particularly big jolt — to Bill’s glee. I pointed out that but for me, that wave would have swamped him! Priscilla smiled that Buckley smile, the Queen of the Nile at the center of the raft, though not above a hearty word of encouragement now and then to us Ben Hurs at the oars.
The expedition ended with dinner that evening at Chez Kesler. My mother cooked a wonderful country meal. Bill expressed his special admiration for the pinto beans. Said Pitts merrily, “Bill, those are green beans.” She was right, of course, but alchemical miracles were routine in those happy days in the Buckleys’ company.
Priscilla later tackled the rapids on the Colorado River, and edited my fledgling copy for the magazine, but our friendship began Huck Finn–style, drifting down the murky waters of the New River.
— Charles Kesler is professor of government and director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
Talented, brilliant, accomplished people don’t always go out of their way to be kind. Priscilla Buckley — much like her beloved brother Bill — did. Grace was not only her style, but her way of life.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
FR. GERALD MURRAY
The news that Priscilla Buckley has gone to the Lord brings to my mind fond memories of this most gracious lady. She was a true Christian gentlewoman. I was with Priscilla on a number of occasions over the years and was always impressed by her cheerfulness and joy. It is impossible to think of the NR I grew up reading without Priscilla Buckley’s towering presence. The Catholic ethos that inspired the Buckley children to take up the good fight to our benefit defines Priscilla’s life work. May God give her the eternal reward she strived for in her very fruitful life. Requiescat in pace.
— Fr. Gerald Murray is the pastor of St. Vincent De Paul Church, New York, N.Y.