Culture

Some Reflections on Linda Bridges

Bridges at National Review’s 55th anniversary in 2010. Lower right: On a panel with Jay Nordlinger (left) and David Frisk
Remembering a longtime NATIONAL REVIEW editor

If you’ve been around NR a long time, if you’ve been an institutional groupie, you probably never met Linda Bridges, or ever saw her (something I try to offset below). But: You know the name. And its importance. And that she had been an integral part of this place, and of all things Buckley, for more than 40 years, until her death Saturday night after a short battle with cancer.

There were several phases to her career here. Linda started as a Buckley-impressing student, who was then hired out of college as an editorial flunkie and soon upgraded to the right hand of Priscilla Buckley, NR’s longest-serving managing editor. Then Linda was named to the prestigious position of managing editor herself, performing that job for both Bill and John O’Sullivan, and even Rich Lowry for a while. Before the millennium ended, she pivoted, becoming a senior editor, and then, after Tony Savage died (poor, wonderful, sorely missed Tony was WFB’s typist-extraordinaire assistant), Bill turned to Linda and asked if she would be his right hand (he had two of them — could Bill have a left hand? — the other being the late Frances Bronson). Of course, she said oui, and for the last years of his life, Linda was again at his direct side, helping keep the Buckley Inc. bus hurtling down the highway.

And then Bill died. Linda was tenacious, and she still had much to offer. Highly regarded as a copy editor and proofreader (one pictures Linda sitting at her desk, hunched over galleys, perilous mountains of paper and debris towering over the scene), among other things, and with National Review Online’s content becoming voluminous, Linda returned to being an editor (knighted by Bill, in a way, who had earlier declared that her title would henceforth be editor-at-large). She edited copy for NRO, and wrote (and edited) several books, for eight years, until this past summer, when her health began to fail.

What to say about someone I have known for 36 years? In 1981, I applied for the NR summer internship (nope, I didn’t get it) and was asked to come to the fabled offices at 150 East 35th Street to interview with Priscilla. Meeting me in the lobby was Linda — wearing an out-of-season, flower-power, hippy-decaled summer dress, thick glasses, and a long ponytail. It was startling, and that first impression stuck. It came to somewhat symbolize, to me, NR in toto, which through its six decades has been defined by a cast of colorful characters, a mix of big brains and wit and exceptional writing, and personal peccadillos. Not exactly the bar scene in Star Wars. But not dull, by any stretch.

Linda was distinguished by a number of things. Above all else was her drive to serve Priscilla and Bill with true devotion, and John O’Sullivan, too.

I’ve heard from a number of NR alumni who recall her with affection and recount how she helped them become better editors. She served as the on-site authority for grammar, punctuation, and NR lore and anecdotes (“Linda, can you tell me if it is true Bill Rusher once . . . ?”). She took pride in all that. Rightly.

Among Linda’s colleagues, there were a few close pals. One was Dorothy McCartney (also resting in peace, sorely missed, I cannot think of her without tearing), who, like Linda — religious, observant, unmarried, reserved, Midtown-Manhattanite, conservative, Emily Post-ish in manners, never vulgar — was intimately involved with the many aspects and functions and demands of WFB. They had a lot to talk about, to gossip about, and did they ever! One happy and frequent image of my years here: seeing these two in the window table of an Italian restaurant a block from NR, trading notes on little and big shots (sometimes, walking by, I would make fun of their chattering till they looked up and laughed).

Linda did have an enemy of sorts: Florence King. Oh my, Florence, who believed that she always turned in work that was untouchable (she sweated every word of every column or review), was infuriated by Linda’s . . . touching. There were various accumulating incidents — one over the use of the word pudenda, another over a geographic equation in a King column of said pudenda with, as I recall, Van Diemen’s Land (Google Earth will make sense of it for you), faxed threats of quitting (by Florence), and a list of demands that included editor-defenestration. Florence made sure to share her eruptions with many people. But Bill would have none of it: He stood by Linda (as did John O’Sullivan), got Florence to back down, and got Linda to promise she would never again touch King copy. And she didn’t. (Fun fact: If you were to assume the title of Florence’s collection Stet, Damnit! was a dig at Linda, you’d be wrong — that was meant for another NR copy editor.)

The last year before Linda discovered the cancer was not an easy one for her. To see her, you would know that she was ill. She was hobbling and had lost much weight. Her friend, Alice Manning, with whom she co-owned her 72nd Street apartment, died suddenly. Then came the cancer diagnosis (it progressed and spread). By early summer, it was the beginning of the end. Those of us tasked with helping Linda through this last phase — our goal was to assure her peace and comfort as she headed toward her Lord and Savior — emptied and cleaned and prepared her unit for sale. An agent was hired and a buyer found and an offer made, but we were told that no deal would take place unless we replaced a door lock. Just the lock. Guess what it costs to replace a door lock in Manhattan? Over two thousand dollars. Well . . . the late and aforementioned Miss King had left Yours Truly a little cash in her will. I decided to use it to pay for Linda’s lock. I’ll get reimbursed someday, somehow, but I am thrilled about this one degree of separation, that it was Florence’s cash that helped Linda. And isn’t that what we want? That they are both in His arms, and have mended fences, and have let pudenda bygones be bygones?

I have to say, Linda could take a Marciano-level punch. Given her status, she was a regular at the fortnightly editorial dinners at Bill’s 73rd Street apartment. One evening, she seemed to get under the skin of Pat Buckley, the hostess, and said something (I forget what) that torqued NR’s First Lady. As only she could, Pat fired an immediate broadside that thundered across the table at Linda. Direct hit. It would have left anyone else wounded, on the floor, hearing the ref count to ten. But Linda acted as if she hadn’t heard it (you knew she had) and carried on. No rejoinders or harrumphs. When it came to her being beside Bill, Linda was the Immovable Object. It’s fair to say from then on, I held Linda in a little awe.

How do you say someone is different without implying weird? I’m not implying that. But Linda was — different. She was a unique individual, with a keen intellect and a deep and abiding love for NR (and language, and baseball), and a gratitude to God (she was a believer and a deeply involved member of her parish, the Episcopal Anglo-Catholic Church of Blessed Mary the Virgin). There was an air of another time, another place, another era, to Linda.

So what? We are blessed by the fact that she worked alongside us in this time, this place, this era. If this thing that is NR were a play, she’d have had a goodly part. And she’d deserve curtain calls. There is no question that Linda Bridges was a vital part of NR, of making it — and all its profound consequences — very real. Maybe it was all meant to be: I cannot picture Linda functioning in an environment that wasn’t like NR’s (accommodating the unorthodox), indeed, in a place that wasn’t NR.

Her final collegial act: Last year, just before all went amiss, there was a small office pizza lunch for some of the interns and staff, a getting-to-know-you thing. Something more for the young ones. But into the conference room came Linda, hobbling but smiling, and she joined in all the merriment, and helped make it so. Like the many days before it, that day too she was still very much part of NR. And until these doors shut, pray God never, she always will be.

Now all that said, I encourage anyone who has read this far to check out these public appearances by Linda. In this 2007 C-Span video, Linda discusses her book, co-authored with John Coyne, Strictly Right: William F. Buckley Jr. and the American Conservative Movement.

And here’s Linda in a 2010 C-Span video with Roger Kimball, with whom she co-edited Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus. It was a great achievement, and who can resist a book whose title has not one but two colons?!

Enough. Linda, you’ve done a lot and have been through a lot. Now rest in peace, sweet sweet peace. You’ve earned it, and deserve it, and, I expect, are relishing it.

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