As readers will know by now, our old colleague Linda Bridges has died at age 67. I owe Linda a lot: Along with Richard Brookhiser, she gave me my first job after graduation, in 1987. They saved me from graduate school. Ten years at National Review in total were a much, much bigger influence on my life than college. I’ve long felt that I grew up there, and so Linda was, in a certain sense, a parental figure.
As an editor, I often think of her dictums on language. Among other things, she taught me to let a writer have his individual voice, to preserve and value it even if it was quite eccentric. One of my responsibilities early on at NR was to edit the columns of an extremely old-school Austro-Hungarian aristocrat who analyzed European affairs for the magazine. I aggressively rewrote him to sound like me. When I got my work back from Linda, I saw that she had reverted — in other words, rejected — almost all of my edits. This happened several times until I got the point: Don’t take his voice from him!
As with a parent, I’ve sometimes found that I only later realized the wisdom or charm of things I heard from her. I remember being surprised by her outlandishness when she said she wished she had been born in the 16th rather than the 20th century. But I think I understand the sentiment now. She was devoted to traditions, memories, old things in general — the ancient manual typewriter she used, for example, or the treasured cabinet of obsolete movable-type pieces that was the centerpiece of her warren-like office in the former, decrepit NR building. Nothing is more characteristic of a conservative than such devotion. I have a manual typewriter from 1931 by my own desk now, rarely used except by my kids as a novelty, but still a prize. It always reminds me of Linda.
She was well known as National Review’s institutional memory, and confided to the younger staff the secret guarded by an old rusty-brown leatherette couch that lived in my office at the time.
Linda had a big, hearty, staccato laugh and threw her head back in hilarity as far as it would go when she was really amused. When she was surprised and a little appalled by something, she sometimes said, “Good gravy!” Miss Bridges loathed an ugly form of address such as calling a woman “Ms.” She pronounced it “Muzzzzz,” and said she would only call another woman that, rather than “Miss” or “Mrs.,” under duress if she was trying to obtain a favor from her. She was half Norwegian by background, and there was something about her — I can’t put my finger on it — that seemed to have escaped from Norse mythology.
On my first day at work, she explained to me that to understand National Review, you had to read Brideshead Revisited. That was about right. I feel that my own personality was pale compared to the extraordinarily vivid individuals Bill Buckley gathered around him, including Linda. I think it was she who said once that NR was a habitat for endangered species, and that was true.
The last time I saw her was not in person but in the wonderful documentary about Buckley and Gore Vidal, Best of Enemies (2015), where she shared a little bit of the great deal that she knew about Buckley, including of the notorious explosive TV encounter with Vidal.
Linda also grew up at National Review, which she joined straight out of USC. She was a vital organ of the magazine that she faithfully served for her entire working life. I remember when Richard Vigilante left NR, at his farewell lunch, referring to its importance to him, he said something to the effect of, “Although I will no longer be at National Review, I think I will always be at National Review.” So will Linda. God bless her.