Frances Bronson, WFB Jr.’s secretary from 1968 until his death, passed away on August 1, after a long and tough battle with emphysema. She was 81 years old.
She was, in many ways, the perfect Girl Friday to the founder of National Review. Perhaps a better metaphor would be: the Mary Poppins of the modern conservative movement.
What a portal she was. Her profoundly, and rather posh, English accent presented a formidable portcullis at the castle drawbridge. Her pronunciation of “Mister Buckley’s office” could instill trepidation in the stoutest heart, and was heard over the years by presidents, prime ministers, the great and good, and the not so great and good. But beneath the rime of frost on those vocal cords were great warmth, a merry soul, and a sharp, fun-loving wit. If you made Frances giggle, you felt that you’d passed some important existential test.
She came on board just as WFB’s fame was cresting. Firing Line had launched in 1966; WFB had made the cover of Time in 1967; his famous exchange with Gore Vidal on television took place the year she arrived at NR.
Frances’s plate — or, alas, ashtray — was never empty; her professional life consisted of dealing with a groaning smorgasbord of Buckley detail: NR; books (over 55); columns (nearly 6,000); Firing Line tapings (over 1,500); the fortnightly editorial dinners; the annual decampment to Switzerland; sailboats; family; godchildren; nieces and nephews (over 50); friends (countless); Cavalier King Charles spaniels. It was endless, but all was handled with cool and calm and British phlegm. Anyone capable of coping with the hyper-dervish world of WFB could probably have planned the Normandy invasion — in her spare time.
Frances was a splendid and caring friend, and devoted to her own large family. She never married but, being the second child in a family of eight, did not lack for siblings and nieces and nephews, upon whom she doted. At the end, her bedside was crowded with those whom she had loved, and who returned her love, with interest.
I visited with her the night before she died, and the next morning called to tell her, “You outlasted Gore Vidal!” Her nephew Howard reported that this had made her laugh. I shall miss hearing my beloved “Aunty Frances” laugh. She was so very dear to me, as she was indeed to so many. Her passing brings almost to an end the old school of NR.
— Christopher Buckley is the author most recently of They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?