A few years back when I wrote a Corner remembrance of an NR colleague who had just died, Dorothy McCartney came to me and asked me to write her obituary when the time came. What? I laughed it off, telling her I would be long gone while she was still enjoying life. But she was serious.
And so, here we are. I can’t say I am shocked, because I have known for some time that our dear friend was fighting a losing battle with cancer. On Friday at 3pm, Dorothy succumbed, having spent the last years in the embrace of the Crucified Christ.
It was an embrace she did not reject. And as with the promise made to the Good Thief, she surely is this day in Paradise. To think otherwise is impossible.
Still, Dorothy’s death makes for a bitter moment, as one thinks about the “old” NR gang – the big shots and small fries, the controversialists and founders, the oddballs and solid citizens, the phone jockeys and the typesetters – and how many of them have now passed on.
Dorothy now in their splendid company. These were famous folks – Buckley, Rusher, Bozell – and anonymous – Stetzner, Savage, Garvey – but they comprised a quirky and talented band of brothers and sisters who championed liberty and freedom. They made National Review a relentless and consequential voice. The world is a better place for them.
Dorothy McCartney was an integral part of NR and its WFB-diaspora. For years she ran the research operation, which guaranteed that what NR printed was based on fact. She was John O’Sullivan’s wondrous secretary, the president of the National Review Institute (if you were at NRI’s phenomenal Washington conference in January of 2007, you have her to thank for it), the once Executive Editor, the primo researcher for Firing Line, a major help to WFB in his latter years of column writing (he trusted her implicitly, and rightly so), and a similar help to Dusty Rhodes in his last years as President. She was ending her run here as my right hand (quite the comedown). And there is so much more that is apt for a McCartney resume.
As a person, she was a concerned and good and reliable friend. She loved to laugh, and loved to pray for you if you were in need. I thought her very pretty, and I loved to be in her company (sitting next to her at NR’s 35th Anniversary bash was a joy), in times good and bad. Turn around in the foxhole and you would find her, sometimes just her.
Dorothy’s last two years were a battle with cancer, discovered just as her father died. She and her wonderful brother John, her sole sibling, cared for him, and then, in cruel cosmic timing, she became the one needing care. Surgery and a brutal regimen of chemo were expected to knock it out. She recovered, and got back in the saddle, returned to work, and was happy to report in September that tests showed all was clear.
Starting in November, she started feeling a bit lousy, but assumed it was the expected aftereffects of chemo. Then one day she was sitting in her office and looked ghastly. I told her to go home and rest. I would only see her one time after that.
It was back and with a vengeance. The cancer had spread. More treatment started, but that proved little more than a rear-guard action.
She fought – never, not once, complaining, and always wanting to know how YOU were doing – with such grace and holiness. Earlier this month, not having heard from her for a couple of weeks, I contacted John. He reported, in essence, that the end was near. And it was.
Bill McGurn, who fell in love with Dorothy as did I when he came to work for NR some 20 years ago, pressed to visit – something Dorothy did not allow when she was undergoing treatment (I half-jokingly accused her of being a foe of the corporal works of mercy by denying me my chance to visit the sick), but she relented. So one afternoon about two weeks ago, we high-tailed it to her apartment. By this point she could barely keep awake, but we came just after lunch and caught her at the right moment. We spent a little more than twenty minutes cracking jokes, trading tidbits of information and memories. And then the crush of fatigue took over. We said what we knew were good-byes.
My heart breaks to think of what she had become physically, and the torment she had endured. But there is comfort from her certain salvation.
A few things about her. She loved beautiful pens and lush writing paper and tablets. Her office had so many shoes and boots in it that I started calling her Imelda Marcos. She laughed heartily. She loved a good meal – I can picture her with Linda Bridges in the window of a little Italian restaurant a block up from our offices, smiling, gabbing, and enjoying themselves. She adored her brother, and rightly so.
Dorothy never married, and I doubt ever dated seriously. Still, the pretty New York redhead leaves behind many a broken heart. We’ll get over sadness, remember the pleasure of being her friend and colleague, and see her again in a better place. Until then dear friend, rest in peace.