On Sunday morning, Pat Buckley, beloved wife of William F. Buckley Jr., passed away in a Stamford, Connecticut hospital. To memorialize Mrs. Buckley, a number of friends and admirers reflect on her life and their memories of her.
Our first meeting was not auspicious. I was invited, as an associate editor, to the National Review Christmas party in 1977. Not knowing what to wear, but thinking it ought to be fancy, I put on the old tails that I had bought to sing in the Yale Glee Club, and carried a cane that a girlfriend had given me. In the foyer of 73 E. 73rd, Mrs. Buckley — not yet, to me, Pat, by a long chalk — asked if I was hurt in some way?
“No,” I said, “it is an affectation.”
“Well,” she said, “will you please leave your affectation in the hall.”
The pitch of her voice: bemused, alert, and demanding alertness of you if, knowing that she was beautiful, and rich, and married to a famous clever husband, you should ever assume that that alone defined her. Many years later, another guest, not a callow youth but the mayor of New York, sat next to her at the dinner table, giving his short billionaire know-it-all opinions of everything, in this case the effects of second hand smoke. She blew a puff in his face, and drawled, “Mr. Mayor, may I smoke in my own house?”
She and Bill were guests once at my house upstate (so much hospitality to return, such slight recompense). They had been driven all the way from Stamford to the eastern Catskills, a long way made longer by a wrong turn. Pat gazed from the backseat, through sunglasses, a King Charles spaniel on her lap. “Are we still in the United States?”
I had a practical question I wanted to pose them, especially her, knowing she was a crack shot. Raccoons get rabies, and I had seen one in the early stages. What would they recommend for varmint control? A shotgun, was the consensus. A while after that, I got a call from Linda Bridges, who had a mysterious package for me at the office. “What does it look like?” I asked her.
“I think it’s a gun,” she said.
“I think I know why,” I said.
It was a .20 gauge, side by side, Spanish, with etchings of pheasants and hunting dogs, and a set of initials: PTB. She would want me to be well dressed.
– Richard Brookhiser, a senior editor at National Review, is author, most recently, of What Would the Founders Do?
Pat Buckley, from the perspective of an NR functionary: the boss’s wife, yes, but an independent, larger-than life force, and a tough one at that — it was S.O.P. that you didn’t get in her crosshairs. That’s the crude characterization, because while Pat could make your knees knock on occasion, the fact is that on all other occasions, at least to me, she was very kind, and often thoughtful. Such as: A few years ago, at a White House Correspondents Dinner reception, she demanded that I join her in some merry conversation with Barbara Walters and Nancy Kissinger — hanging with the doyennes is not exactly the kind of thing a Bronx schlubb would have imagined himself ever doing. But my pleasant dealings with Pat are irrelevant. What is relevant is that Pat let — and helped — her equally larger-than-life husband undertake the monumental task of launching a massive political/ideological movement that played a central role in bringing freedom to millions of tyrannized people. Now that’s not a bad accomplishment to have on your record as you meet Saint Peter, who, we pray, has heartily welcomed this grand lady, now we hope whole and free from ailments, through Heaven’s Gates. R.I.P.
– Jack Fowler is publisher of National Review.
In the spring of 1950, Bill had Pat Taylor for a weekend at Yale, and I invited them to dinner at a fraternity, DEKE. Pat had an Animal House view of fraternities, and once seated she looked around and audibly said: “I hear everyone around here is drunk half the time.” I demurred: “Oh no, we drink twice that much.” She roared with laughter and grabbed my hand and said: “We’ll get along just fine!” Pat Taylor Buckley was humor. Later that summer in Vancouver at their sumptuous wedding, Pat worried that some of us Yalie ushers might not show up sober and she had her mother issue an order to the ushers: “No Nips before Nups.” Violators would be seized and pressed into the Canadian army and sent to Korea. Pat’s father was a very big wheel and we all believed he could do it. We all laughed for years, on land and at sea over “No Nips before Nups.” Pat’s humor was like mother’s milk to her friends. I’m sure she is laughing at me now as I write. So long Old Pal. R.I.P.
– Evan Galbraith, Yale classmate of William F. Buckley Jr., serves as U.S. Defense Department representative in Europe and defense adviser to the U.S. mission to NATO.
It is hard to believe that suddenly our one and only Pat is not going to be among us and keeping us “on our toes”! Such a vibrant, bright, and dynamic person is so alive in my memory that it is impossible to think of her as “not here.” She has held a special place in my heart for the 45 years we have known each other. There will be many who will recount tales of various aspects of her “public” life. For myself, it is the cozier moments that leap into mind and especially the many times we would burst into real fits of laughter together – the kind of laughter that is infectious and feeds on itself. Pat is the only person with whom I shared this marvelous behavior. If you left us together for any length of time, some ridiculous item would set us off and if Van and Bill were around, as they were on a daily basis on the many yachting trips we took together in the Greek islands and down the Croatian coast, they would wonder if we’d gone “mad”! What a glorious sense of humor Pat had. And yet there was no nonsense about her either. She did not “suffer fools lightly”! All the more reason to know the real Pat — the warm and down to earth, hard working, perspicacious, witty and talented Pat. She leaves us but she is not gone. Impossible!
– Marie “Bootsie” Galbraith writes from Brussels.
I was honored to be a weekend guest in Stamford with Pat and Bill for the last 15 Augusts. It was somehow not summer unless I spent a couple of days in their always gracious company. What I remember most about Pat, and what I will remember with the greatest fondness, was our mutual love of music of all kinds. It could be Bach. It could be Corelli. It could be Art Tatum. It could be Dick Wellstood. It could be Alistair Cooke commenting on Ellington, Gillespie, and Monk. How we enjoyed the excellence of great music for all those hours, often sitting on the veranda overlooking Long Island Sound of a lazy Saturday afternoon talking of this or that but always with great music as the narrative. Pat was a woman of indomitable spirit and a flair for the true, and I will miss her generosity of spirit and those afternoons of summertime music that framed, for me, an irreplaceable time. May our gracious God grant her an eternal rest and peace beyond all knowing.
– Tim Goeglein is deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House.
My first television experience was as a panelist on Firing Line, and in that role I was invited to come to London in 1969 for a few of the show’s tapings. That was the first time I met Pat, who seemed to me a larger-than-life figure, someone who inhabited a world I had only seen thumbing through newspapers and magazines. But the more times I met her, the more I came to believe that — for all of the presence she brought with her into every room she entered, she viewed much of life with a twinkle in the eye. One day I offered Bill a fine Havana cigar — to avoid political offense, I invited him to slowly burn the agricultural export of a dictatorship — and heard Pat declaim, “Bill, you’re not going to smoke one of those dreadful Communist cigars, are you?” I do not think I imagined her capacity to savor the life she led, while avoiding the trap of taking its trappings too seriously. And oh, yes: Her love for Bill, and his for her was also a presence in every room they occupied together.
– Jeff Greenfield is senior political correspondent for CBS News.
Alistair & Sheelin Horne
In their house on 73rd Street there hangs a painting (full length) of Pat, done in the 1970s , by a British artist friend of my wife’s, the late John Norton. It is in brilliant red, she is all of 8 feet tall, and wears a faintly imperious expression. (She didn’t really like the painter) But there is also a suggestion of a smile, which one feels might preface one of Pat’s wonderful explosions of witty, sometimes biting mirth–and, at the same time, and abundance of warm-hearted generosity. At her feet are her inseparable King Charles Cavaliers (the first of whom, the irreplaceable “Rowley” I gave Pat. They were her emblem, the love of her life. She loved them sometimes (so he would complain) almost more than Bill himself; certainly he could never compete with their docility.
To me, and Sheelin, the Lady in Red, is how we will always remember Pat. In ancient Greek History there was once a King who died in bad times; his eulogists wrote of him “hold him in your hearts as he was in his glory.” In her last years Pat, I believe, suffered more pain than one can possibly imagine, more pain than anyone but she knew. It took its toll. So one is happy to have the record of the Lady in Red as an amulet alway to remember her by, at the time of her glory when she and Bill gave so much to those of us who were her friends.
– Alistair Horne is author of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962, among other books.
Charles R. Kesler
I met her in 1974 when, as a freshman in college, I visited the Buckleys in Stamford for the weekend. I had met Bill the year before, but had not seen him in statu naturale, as Cicero would say — enjoying all the conditions and ingredients of the good life, including the love of his dazzling, darling Pat. Sitting side-by-side in Adirondack chairs on the lawn beside the pool, they soon fell into a short argument about how to pronounce “Croats,” as in the Serbs and Croats. Pat insisted that it was one-syllable, long-o — Crotes — “as everyone in his right mind knows.” Paging insouciantly through the New York Times, Bill replied, “No, Ducky, I think it’s two syllables, Cro-ats.” She rolled her eyes and shot back, “Don’t be absurd, Ducky. Charles, tell him he’s out of his mind.” To this day I don’t know who was right, though I think I sided sheepishly with Bill; but I do remember thinking, this is the oddest conversation between spouses I’ve ever heard (outside of a Howard Hawks or George Cukor movie), and that these two were, quite simply, made for each other.
My image of Pat was forever set by those early encounters. Tall, elegant, with a beauty that seemed alternately stern and playful, she was a perfect match for Bill, able to keep up intellectually, to outpace him socially, and to trade barbs and witticisms as his equal. Her hospitality was legendary, and very old-school: who else set the table with monogrammed boxes of matches and silver cups full of cigarettes? Her sense of taste, distinctive, bold, and impeccably executed, suffused every inch of the Buckleys’ homes, where swirling paisleys live in peaceful harmony with blazing florals. And her Bloody Marys — simply the best.
In 1978, during another idyllic summer weekend, I mentioned that in a few weeks I would be moving into an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to begin graduate school. “If you’d like, I could come up and decorate it for you,” she said. I was stunned by the offer. I regret that I never took her up on it…though I suppose if I had, I might still be living in that transformed flat, unwilling, unable, to part with the luminous tokens of Pat’s style and grace.
– Charles R. Kesler is professor of government and director of the Salvatori Center at Claremont McKenna College.
I remember the first time I took our young son, aetat. perhaps 6, to see a Spitfire at the National Air and Space Museum. I told him that Mrs. Buckley had once been taken for a ride in the jumpseat of a training version of the plane. However did the statuesque Pat Buckley squeeze into that tiny space? “You must fold up like a jackknife,” my wife said. “I do,” replied Pat, the words “of course” implied. James was agog at this accomplishment, and Pat’s assuring an endless supply of cookies and other delectables whenever they met — not to mention her confiding secret advice for Really Naughty Tricks, like the proper technique for balancing a pail of water on top of a slightly open door — cemented his admiration. Pat was in many ways a formidable woman. It’s not that she didn’t suffer fools gladly — she didn’t suffer them at all. But her defining characteristic was an omnivorous, impatient zest for life’s panoply. I feel certain she would have approved of Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s injunction “If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here by me.” Yet with Pat the flood of anecdote, gossip, and analysis was always edged with laughter and leavened with a communicable cheer. James will keenly miss that laughter, those confidences, as indeed shall Alexandra and I.
Senator Joseph Lieberman
Over 40 years ago, I had the privilege and the honor to first meet Bill and Pat Buckley at their home in Stamford. At the time, I was writing for the Yale Daily News, and Bill was its most heralded alumnus. I was struck at that dinner by the grace, intellect and wit of Pat Buckley.
Over the subsequent years, I have had many more opportunities to enjoy the company of Pat and Bill. Bill not only had a lifelong beloved partner in Pat, she also matched him in repartee and elegance. She could at once make you comfortable and make you smile.
Patricia Buckley was an accomplished woman in many ways, but I would not say that street politics was necessarily one of them. Yet, she made an exception that mattered much to me. During my first campaign for Senate in 1988, I benefited greatly from Bill’s formation of “Buck-pac.” And I can vividly remember Pat as a dedicated foot-soldier standing outside a supermarket or two in Stamford handing out Buck-pac literature, and in her own grand manner of speech, making the case for the Buckley family’s candidate for the Senate. Since I was elected that year by less than one percent of the vote, it is quite possible that Bill and Pat’s efforts made all the difference!
A great friend, a dedicated mother and a loving wife, Pat will be missed by all who came into contact with her. I know Hadassah and I will miss those lovely evenings with her and Bill.
I pray with confidence that the soul of Patricia Buckley will go on now to eternal life and that Bill and Chris will be strengthened by their faith in God and comforted by wonderful memories of this great woman.
– Joseph Lieberman is a United States senator (I.) from Connecticut.
Kathryn Jean Lopez
I first met Mrs. Buckley while standing in a corner, a little shy and trying to stay out of the way until needed, at a National Review Institute conference in the fall of 1997. I had only recently started working fulltime at National Review, answering phones and making coffee in our D.C. office.
I met Mrs. Buckley while she was trying to find a little quiet time in the midst of the bustling crowd. It was during “break-out session time” and everyone was running to and fro. Near everyone had an obligation or agenda or a pressing issue, but Mrs. Buckley seemed to be content to know that this creation of her husband’s was doing well, continuing to have an impact, as was he.
To the shy kid she didn’t have to give a second thought to, Pat Buckley was kind and encouraging. Again, one – well, I — imagined that to Mrs. Buckley, to see a new kid at NR, as she had to have seen cycles of by then, was a great sign of the success of the magazine and movement her Bill built. And that it was.
My sense of Bill and Pat Buckley has always been that theirs was a great love story — with some drama, but always a great and abiding love.
Our hearts go out to WFB and Christopher as they mourn their original Pat. We all owe so much to the Buckleys. Thank you, Mrs. B.
– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
Before I met Pat Buckley, I had been told two things about her: first that she was extremely glamorous, second that she was one of the leaders of New York society. Both were true. Pat had the kind of tall slender figure that flattered the designer gowns she wore, and her name (plus Bill’s) was at the top of every important list for parties and charity balls in the city.
When I finally did meet her, I wondered that someone so candid and witty could have flourished in social circles where self-importance was not unknown. Her wit and candor, I soon realized, made her wonderfully invigorating company. New Yorkers liked someone who could beat them at their own games of verbal dexterity.
Pat’s social leadership was more than merely social, however. Conservatives were rare in such circles. Pat may have been more conservative than Bill — at one time she had a Buchanan bumper sticker on her car. Together they were conservatism’s golden couple, giving a contemporary Manhattan gloss to a movement that its enemies would like to have caricatured as provincial, dull, and outdated.
Pat was also a loving wife and mother, a loyal friend, and active in many charitable causes, Those are, I tell myself, the important things, Then I remember the many NR dinners to which she welcomed guests of every opinion with style, generosity and haute cuisine–and I cannot help feeling that the witty glamor girl may have done more for conservatism than a thousand well-written editorials.
– John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review and author of The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.
Pat Buckley was obviously a great lady in the usual sense of that term, but she was also something better than that — one of the very few truly great women I have been lucky enough to know in my by now rather long lifetime. Beautiful, it goes without saying; regal in stature and bearing, certainly; clever almost to a fault, yes; and intelligent to the highest degree. All this was infused with a vitality that imparted a special radiance to her presence, an iridescent aura in which you bathed whenever you got near her. It was so powerful that it could hardly be dimmed even when, in the last few years, she grew crotchety and, if truth be told, even a bit cantankerous, from the constant pain from which she has now been delivered. But for those of us who admired and loved her and who know that we will never look upon her like again, there is no deliverance: there is only the selfish heartbreak at being robbed of so rich a giver of delights.
– Norman Podhoretz is editor-at-large of Commentary and author of many books.
One of the first times I met Pat Buckley, out at the Buckleys’ place in Stamford, Connecticut, I discovered that she and I shared a very unusual passion: the Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle. Not the Sunday puzzle, with its one-joke theme, but the Saturday one — the toughest. When I take on the Saturday puzzle, I start out never knowing whether I’m going to be able to finish it — but always knowing that I have a chance. It occurs to me that Pat’s life with Bill must have required the same spirit: If you’re going to be the lifelong drawing-room sparring partner of one of the quickest intellects of the century, you’d better have not just smarts but more than a little spunk. Pat Buckley more than held her own. In this world, she was very quick; in the next, she rests in the peace that passeth all understanding.
– Michael Potemra is literary editor of National Review.
Thomas “Dusty” Rhodes
Pat Buckley was the finest of New York City’s hostesses. She plied her skills for the benefit of her husband’s creation: National Review magazine. Among the different kinds of events that Pat would host for the magazine were the editorial dinners. These occurred twice a month in her New York City duplex apartment on Park Avenue. The attendees were members of NR’s editorial and publishing staff, plus selected guests who were well-versed on the newsworthy issues of that week. Or they could be a lovely miss who could enhance any conversation by her presence, like Lauren Bacall. The guests were told to arrive at 7:30 and “don’t be late.” These were always special evenings. From the moment one walked into the red-walled library — dominated by a portrait of Mrs. Buckley — to the conclusion, every detail was thought through. Bill would invite the guests to ensure a lively conversation on a current world event and how it would impact the conservative movement. Pat’s contribution was generously using her skills to provide the setting for these conversations. And she would insist on being present to ensure the quality of the evening. Over the course of her life at the magazine, Pat could have easily hosted 1,200 editorial dinners. I personally attended about 300. Her contribution to the editorial content of the magazine over the years has been considerable. We will mourn her passing, personally as well as collectively.
– Dusty Rhodes is president of National Review.
William A. Rusher
The news of Pat Buckley’s death prompted two quite diverse reflections. The first was the memory of her many quiet kindnesses. Indeed, “quiet” is hardly an adequate word; “secret” might be better. In any case, they were wonderful. By pure chance, I learned that she had visited one friend every day for the last two weeks of his life, as it ebbed away owing to a mortal illness. To be there when you really needed her: That was Pat.
The other reflection was of how stoically she bore up under the various medical problems that afflicted her. I cannot think of anyone else I know who, over a span of many years, suffered a worse series of seemingly gratuitous injuries. She complained, of course, though often lacing the complaints with a dry wit that was virtually her signature. But, to the admiration of her many friends, she soldiered on.
The mutual love of Bill and Pat is one of the great untold stories of our time. As his friends draw even closer to Bill today, we can only imagine the enormity of his loss.
– William A. Rusher is former publisher of National Review.
Father George W. Rutler
One does not instinctively think of Pat and Aristotle together, but she incarnated what the Philosopher meant by magnificence as a virtue: the expenditure of property and talent beyond the protocols of mere generosity to promote noble causes. If the press insists on calling her a “socialite,” those who knew her will add that her socializing changed society. She combined the kitchen of St. Martha and the salon of Madame Recamier and great events in our generation were shaped by that. Once she asked me my opinion about ladies’ bathing costumes, a subject on which I am not expert, and I took that moment as a gracious hint that I was welcome. Of all that she and Bill have done, the most important is the way they have given our restless age the model of a holy marriage. On many occasions she patiently sat through my Latin blessings of her dinners, and I think it is a singular blessing of our infinitely patient Lord that He received her in the week of the Resurrection.
– Father George W. Rutler is pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in Manhattan.
Soon after Rick and I got married, in 1980, I invited Pat and Bill Buckley to dinner, with the greatest trepidation. As Rick’s fiancée, I’d enjoyed Mrs. Buckley’s hospitality for years, and wanted to reciprocate. But how was a 33 year-old to entertain the most acclaimed hostess in New York City? I cooked for several days, and cleaned and organized our one-bedroom apartment as best I could. What a delightful surprise the evening turned out to be. Not only was Pat a tart and charming guest, but after dinner she went around the apartment with me and showed me—cleverly and with a straightforward wish to be helpful—how to organize my closets. And, the next week, she wrote to ask for my frozen lemon soufflé recipe. I’ve never forgotten any of it, nor the extra attention her presence got us from our doorman for the next decade.
– Jeanne Safer is a psychotherapist and author, most recently, of The Normal One. Jeanne is married to NR’s Rick Brookhiser.
Editor’s note: Condolences to WFB can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state for publication on NRO.