EDITOR’S NOTE: On Thursday, November 17, National Review celebrated William F. Buckley’s 80th birthday at the Pierre in New York City. Among those in attendance, paying WFB tribute, was Priscilla Buckley, WFB’s sister and longtime managing editor of National Review. Below are her remarks, as prepared.
When I tell people that I spent most of my working life at National Review the question I am most often asked is, “What was it like working for your brother.” With quite often the addition, “I mean he is so autocratic.” My answer is that it was just splendid because I had trained Bill right. He never questioned any of my orders, nor did he ever interfere with my management of the enterprise.
I had started training him for his future role very early on. It was I, of course, who ordered him when but a wee lad of seven to write King George and demand the instant repayment of Britain’s World War I war debts to the United States. As the sixth child of a rambunctious family of ten, Bill was far down in the pecking order. Under the circumstances he had two choices: to become timorous or sassy. He chose sassy and developed a feistiness that would, some years later, enable him to topple the Debating Paladins of the Liberal-Left into the dust, where they belonged.
But Bill had a single failing as an executive. The killer instinct that so devastated the liberal intelligentsia never carried over when it came to disciplinary matters at NR. Down deep, Bill is a patsy who just can’t bring himself to hurt any one’s feelings. Thus when the time has come, say, to fire a pot-smoking boy in the mailroom who has been caught stealing from the petty cash drawer, Peerless Leader is no place to be seen. He has found it necessary to tape a Firing Line episode with the acting deputy foreign minister of Uzbekistan–in Uzbekistan.
This situation was eventually rectified when Bill lured Bill Rusher to New York to be NR’s publisher; thereafter Bill Buckley would do the hiring and Bill Rusher the firing. (Bill Rusher got up to speed on such matters by firing the first dozen or so of his personal secretaries.)
Bill Buckley has many extraordinary talents: as a writer, editor, speaker, debater, polemisist, harpsichordist. But I believe that it is not so much these, but those other qualities–his enduring generosity of spirit, his sensitivity to the feelings of others, and his outsize talent for friendship–that have brought all of us to the Pierre tonight to join in celebrating the 80th birthday of my long-time boss and dearest friend, my brother Bill.