In WFB’s Footsteps
Bill Buckley died five years ago, but his presence in the lives of his friends is everlasting.

WFB in his office, c. 1975


Several hazy hours passed, and I prepared to return to New York. Julian kindly offered to give me a ride to the train station.

Before we left, I asked Julian, Danny, and the maids to gather in the living room. I said it was imperative for us to honor Bill’s memory with music that very afternoon. I proceeded to play the first prelude from the second book of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. This simple work in C Major, the simplest of keys, managed to bring us together in our grief while also giving us a sense of salvation. I’ll never forget the feeling of the tears coming down my cheeks as I finished the closing passage. As the sound disappeared, the five of us embraced and wept.

* * *

Five years on, the lasting influence Bill left has continued to grow. What is very evident is just how my understanding of selflessness has expanded, based on those memories. Here was a great man who epitomized selflessness, which manifested itself in goodness. His generosity and mentorship were legendary, but he didn’t look for credit where credit was due. What I think he looked for was for his friends to continue those actions, like the perpetual motion found in a great work by his favorite composer, J. S. Bach. Bill powered his friendships with this motion, and those lucky enough to have come into contact with him benefited greatly.

On June 8, 2007, two months after Pat passed away, I had received a letter and a gift from Bill. It was the last physical letter I received from him, and I’m sure it barely made it to my apartment given how illegible the handwriting was on the envelope. It left me speechless. The letter foretold what his friendship would mean to me in the years following his passing: “Dear Larry: What is enclosed is very simply a gift. It is, to be sure, an appreciation of your attainments, but hardly conceived as a reward for them — such rewards are to be received from other quarters. It is, simply, a gesture of appreciation and admiration, from a friend who greatly esteems you. XXB”

In the last five years I have made many meaningful friendships. The fact that I would never have met most of these people if not for my friendship with Bill reinforces the continuing presence he has in my life. Those “rewards” he referred to in his last letter are still materializing. I am forever grateful to him for answering the first letter I wrote him nearly 20 years ago. It formed the basis for an everlasting friendship, as I hear and follow his footsteps to this day.

— Lawrence Perelman is managing director of Semantix Creative Group, a strategic-advisory firm that counts cultural institutions like the Salzburg Festival among its clients.