Politics & Policy

It Was My Honor

I was a Friend of Bill.

Bill Buckley, over the years, became one of my heroes. When I was a congressman, he invited me to appear on Firing Line on a number of occasions and always treated me, I thought, more kindly than I had any reason to hope for, since he could have, with his intelligence and debater’s skills, decimated me immediately. Somehow, we became friends, and that friendship continued after I became mayor and after I left office. It was after I left office that Bill invited me occasionally to his home in Manhattan where he and his wife, Pat, held court surrounded by members of the National Review editorial board. I was fascinated by the give-and-take in the conversation and delighted to be asked my opinion.

The wonderfully loving, yet occasionally arch relationship between Bill and Pat was endearing, especially their calling one another “Ducky” and it sounding to my ear so much like a scene from Brideshead Revisited. On one occasion, Pat ushered me into the living room, and I sat on the couch, and she said, “No, sit in the chair,” pointing to the armchair that Bill normally sat in. I demurred, knowing that it was his. She said, “Do sit there,” and I did. As I expected, when he entered the room, he looked to the seat with a visible grimace, and I immediately vacated it and thought, this is how the gentry play games with one another. At the dinner table, the food was superb and the conversation even more so, with everyone participating in the conversation with Bill and Pat, often disagreeing.

On another occasion, Bill asked me to be the guest speaker in Washington at a dinner for conservative fundraisers. I was honored to do so. I knew that I would have a great time and, in any event, I could never refuse his request. I opened with:

I know what you are thinking. What is a nice, liberal guy like Ed Koch doing here?

[Pause]

I’m here to convert you.

As you may have guessed, there were no conversions that night.

And I never converted Bill, but I was blessed by his friendship and subject to his generosity to the very end. Not long ago, I asked Bill to read a book that I had just finished writing and, hopefully, blurb it. He told me to send it over and provided me with a magnificent blurb.

As important as that gracious act on his part was and is to my book, much more important to me was a line in his recent letter where he wrote, “I’ve been ill, but at one point, I will recover and descend on you, and we’ll have a good, nostalgic meal.” Regrettably, that day will no longer arrive.

Bill passed on at age 82. I’m 83, so I hope to see him and Pat soon.

– Ed Koch is former mayor of New York and author of The Koch Papers.

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