As Andy says, Robert H. Bork was part of the National Review circle, a longtime fixture on NR cruises and at other events. I will leave it to Andy, Ed Whelan, and others to discuss his merits as a jurist, but one reason he would have made a great Supreme Court justice is that he had terrific comic timing. If you were on a panel with him, he was lethally economical: He gave the shortest answers and got the biggest laughs.
Off-stage, he was even more convivial. Away from formal portraits, he had a rogue-ish expression, in contrast to his wife Mary Ellen’s very saintly mien — they were a striking couple in that respect. Like many great minds, he had an appetite for murder mysteries and the like. I was impressed to find he’d read not only John Buchan’s famous “shockers” but also his wonderfully evocative memoir, Memory Hold-The-Door. Published after Buchan died in office as Canada’s viceroy, it was said to be John F. Kennedy’s favorite book – which small but improbable point of mutual enthusiasm would seem to be at odds with the monstrous dehumanization of Bob by JFK’s brother. Like Buchan’s, Bob’s memoir will now be published posthumously.
One night at dinner, during my troubles with Canada’s “human rights” commissions, I said that it had changed how I felt about my country. Bob chuckled and said he didn’t think that was a good idea. He was treated disgracefully by the most eminent persons in the land – okay, make that the most “eminent” – (Ted Kennedy, Joe Biden, Arlen Specter, Bob Packwood, a veritable pantheon of eminences), and after such a perverse tribute to the corrupt dysfunction of American civic discourse it would surely have been easy to have been consumed by bitterness. But he wasn’t. He liked good spirits and good music, and lived well. On one NR cruise, in the cocktail lounge in the wee small hours, the pianist asked those of us who were closing out the bar if there were any number we’d like him to play as his last song. Bob piped up with “Bye Bye, Blackbird” and sat there contentedly as softly we all sang along:
Pack up all my care and woe
There I go
Rest in peace.