Politics & Policy

Ember

What my father would have said . . .

Just five weeks ago, my father, Evan Galbraith, passed away. He was Bill Buckley’s best friend for 60 years. There wasn’t a day that they didn’t speak or correspond. I know my father would want to pay tribute to Bill and so I am paraphrasing (with perhaps a touch of celestial intervention?) what I think my father would want to say:

Bill Buckley was my best and oldest friend: the truest, most loyal friend that a man could hope for. He was my mentor, inspiration, confidant, ally, shipmate, and navigator.

His professional, political, and literary accomplishments were unfathomable, vast, pivotal, and permanent. As the founder of the “conservative movement” — a term that has been distorted by contemporary politicians — he changed the trajectory of American political history in the 20th century and helped establish a modern, prosperous balance of power between government and private enterprise that too many take for granted. He was also instrumental in the exposure and demise of Communist dictatorships around the world. In fact, he was more admired in Eastern Europe — for his subversive and smuggled-in National Review — than anywhere else.

#ad#But Bill was even better as a friend than as a political theorist. His friendship was monumental, deeply sentimental, humble, and unconditional. It was the stuff of great novels.

I met Bill at Yale at DKE fraternity house in 1947. He had just won election to the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News, and I simply had to find out what the hilarity was about. I knew I wasn’t as well-versed nor as well-dressed as he, but I could detect a kindred spirit in this curious and ebullient fellow.

And what an encounter it was. We became the best of debaters, conversationalists, and counsels. He took me under his wing and introduced me to a wide variety of students and schools of philosophical thought. He welcomed me as well into Skull and Bones. I might have been from Ohio, roughened up a bit by the loss of my own father at the age of 13, broke and scruffy around the edges, but this New England gentleman welcomed me with exuberance and goodwill.

Later on in life, Bill introduced me to every politico I can think of — governors, senators, presidents, kings, commissars, subversives from the right and left, writers, historians, musicians, and artists. He was also the engineer behind many of my greatest friendships, such as those with Alistair Horne and David Niven. In 1980, he introduced me to Ronald Reagan, which led to my appointment as ambassador to France, an experience that enriched my life forever. And in 1986, he appointed me as chairman of the board for National Review. It is unquestionably because of Bill’s intervention that I launched into a fascinating political career that ended with my service as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s representative to Europe and NATO.

For countless years, Bill also took me sailing — across the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific, the Indian; through the fiords of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland; across the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, the Aegean, down the Dalmatian Coast; out to Bermuda where we raced, over to the Azores, and across every inch of the Long Island Sound. And while I might have been the salt of sea, churning out drunken tales from my slanted bunk and bloodied nose in the wee hours of a howling night, Bill was always my compass, moral and otherwise.

For more than 40 winters we also skied together near Rougemont, Switzerland, and traversed across as much snow as we did ocean. Combined, we probably covered the entire area surface of the Earth. He skied about as well as I sailed — that is, with sheer grit. In the evenings, my wife and I were the constant guests of cozy dinners with wonderful companionship and superlative discourse. He was simply my extended family.

Most important, however, was that Bill set an example of dedication, kindness, and simplicity. He was a devoted father to his son, Christopher, and a loyal husband to Pat. He was the most dedicated, hard-working, prolific professional I knew: a relentless writer, churning out several columns a week and at least one book a year; a dedicated editor, philosopher, speechwriter, orator, television producer, linguist, classical musician, and sailor; a man dedicated to his staff and friends; and a devout Catholic.

He was a truly kind man, genuinely caring to anyone in his company. His kindness was not for show. It was discreet. He drove an hour every Sunday to take his house staff to Mass in Spanish; he opened his home to practicing musicians and supported innumerable young scholars. And I knew that my family and I could count on him for anything.

And while his vocabulary and accolades might have been immeasurable, his ego was modest, for the depth of his love for so many things, including his Faith, inevitably brought about a pensive humility and a time-saving simplicity of living, a simplicity that was humorously and necessarily draped over with initialed shirts and the like by his glamorous wife.

Bill Buckley showed me that the measure of a great man is determined by the hearts that he filled and inspired. My own heart, like that of so many others, is full to the brim.

How unbelievably lucky I was to have him in my life. He called me a “Bright Spirit,” just four weeks ago — but he, my dear friend, was the ember. Bill, my dear, oldest friend, adieu — and bienvenue.

Christina Galbraith is a science writer based in New York City. Her press has been picked up by Forbes, the Huffington Post and others.

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