Religion

‘Wick’ Allison, R.I.P.

Wick Allison (Photo: Natalie Goff)
Goodbye to a visionary political fighter and longtime NR friend.

Lodowick Brodie Cobb Allison, better known as “Wick,” once referred to in these parts as “The Publisher” — a position he held and wielded for roughly three years following the retirement of Bill Rusher — has passed away. He fought a prolonged rearguard action bravely, and quietly, against persistent cancer over a decade. He was 72.

Wick is best known, rightly so, for having founded D Magazine, America’s premier and influential, city-focused publication (and, eventually, media empire). He also played a major role in the survival and thriving of The American Conservative. Both those institutions will have much to say about their friend, benefactor, owner.

Of his NR years and presence: Let’s say it was somewhat of a wild ride. A drama. I had a mezzanine seat. When Bill Buckley offered the publisher’s role to Wick — then living in New York, where he had launched the successful Arts & Antiques — it could not be said that he was aloof as to NR’s business oddities. He had been, after all, on the board of directors for a few years. But being a very political animal, and seeing in NR a premier brand name with even greater potential, as well as a vehicle for influencing the going-nowhere-fast Capitol Hill GOP, he accepted Bill’s offer. That baton was passed at the same time that WFB handed over NR’s editorial reins to John O’Sullivan, implying a new era for a storied journal. It was expected that Wick would professionalize the mom-and-pop-store nature of NR’s corporate affairs.

How many ships have crashed on those rocks? Flashy, bold, adamant, back-slapping, fun (his cramped office was often the locus of a game of boules), impulsive, intimidating, Wick Allison was decidedly the Un-Rusher. True, they were very alike in one major way: Both men were fixated on seeing NR sway the Republican Party. In Wick’s case, there was a game plan: Dallas-area congressman Steve Bartlett would enter the GOP leadership by displacing Guy Vander Jagt (pleasant, old-school, crooning, ineffectual) as head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. A chain reaction would commence. It was not to be.

As for the ways of Rusher the publisher, and the ye olde ways of doing opinion-magazine business, with ingrained traits and peccadillos — well, let’s say their ability to defy and confound persisted, even against the efforts of a determined man. And that is what Wick was. The history is plentiful and contentious, but the scorecard reads that Publisher Allison’s efforts to modernize the fogey ways of NR had some successes. That said, his tenure was short-lived: To put it diplomatically, there were excesses, head-buttings, presumptions, over-reaches. By late 1991, Wick wasn’t leaving NR and NYC as much as he was headed back to Dallas. Many good things would happen there.

As for those NR excesses, one was a brilliant idea, of the kind fated to be categorized as “before its time.” Wick’s was “Town Hall.” Yes, that thing you know as Townhall.com was a pre-Internet conception of Wick’s. Even in the days of dial-up modems, he believed, passionately, that the movement could coalesce and expand through a technical platform that would connect conservative individuals and institutions in one place. Town Hall’s functions were astounding at the time: distance meetings (think prehistoric Zoom), far-flung private chats, personal communications, camaraderie enhancement, all of that and more happening in a distinct conservative environment. It actually happened. But: The money secured to build and sustain Town Hall proved fleeting. Was it undercapitalized? Was there overspending? Both? Whatever the reasons, the dough that was to last for three years was disappearing within one. Which does not refute this fact: The premise of Town Hall was brilliant. Nor this one: Wick was a visionary.

As they say, ahead of his time. A young NR writer redeployed to become Town Hall’s round-the-clock everything, I was at Wick’s side as he visited conservative-organization leaders to explain the virtues of this new undertaking. The year being 1991, it was a hard sell: Too many an eye of too many a guru (who still found the fax machine confounding) glazed over.

This is no effort to tell tales of Town Hall’s evolutions, still, I will share one personal story. A six-week beta-testing period was scheduled before the site’s formal launch. Knowing (rightly!) that the job was going to consume my every moment, on a Friday night (via MCI Mail!), I ventured to ask Wick for four hours on each of the following two Saturdays to finish a major home project. Clear the decks, if you will. Well, you could hear him yelling in his electronic reply about how grateful a schmo like me should be to have a job, how could I think to ask, etc. He had his points. Okay, Wick, I said, I will do what I am told, request withdrawn, I was only asking. Case closed?

Case not closed. The first thing the following Monday, the great Ed Capano (Wick’s successor, and my predecessor, as publisher) called. He was alarmed: “What the hell did you do?” I found it hard to believe my request might have caused a ruckus, but it had. I explained my communications with Wick, with emphasis on my commitment to be the new NR galley slave. “I’ll call you back,” he said.

At lunchtime, he did. “It’s fixed,” Ed said. Broken things get fixed: “Was I fired?” I asked him. “Yes,” was the reply.

Wick was like that. Impulsive, immediate, lashing. Yep, it could be quite unfair — in my case, I was fortunate to have an advocate in Ed. What if I hadn’t? I’m ashamed to say it now, but when Wick left NR, I shed no tear.

Time can be wonderful, a softening and healing thing. Though his departure from NR resulted from contention, Wick, like many who have had an association with this Buckley enterprise, continued to retain ties. He wrote for the magazine on several occasions in the ensuing years and was a contributing editor. He maintained a true affection for Bill: In one of the nicer experiences of my three-plus decades here, Wick hosted a table when our founder was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame in 2005. There were fond feelings all around. It had been a dozen years since I had last seen Wick — he could not have been more pleasant company, more genuinely happy to be with us. The feeling was mutual. A decade later, when I visited him at D’s impressive offices — a match for the successful vision Wick has had for that expanding enterprise — the same goodwill was plentiful and genuine.

(Fun fact: At some point between those 2005 and 2015 visits, Wick called to ask me to be the publisher of The American Conservative. I was surprised, touched, and thanked him sincerely, but told him I was quite happy being the publisher of National Review.)

Last August, a pal told me he heard Wick was quite ill. That the end was near. I contacted another friend who could answer the question: Was Wick dying? Nope, came the reply, attended by a picture taken just a day earlier of Wick, the relentless fly fisher, at his place in the Catskills, with pals, waders and vests, and all the regalia on, brandishing poles, big smiles beaming. Good. False alarm.

A year to the day later, another pal contacted me — Wick was dying. This time I contacted my old boss directly, fearful the news might be true. It was. I did not figure on hearing back. But I did. “The night is closing in,” Wick wrote. He was fatigued. He spoke about his lovely family (and dog!) and shared some terribly kind, personal words. And blessings. Yesterday, September 1, in the Catskills where he was truly happy, surrounded by his wife Christine and daughters Gillea, Maisie, Chrissie, and Loddie, Wick Allison’s struggle ended.

A fond memory: For a spell during his tenure as NR publisher, at noon every day at the old NR headquarters on East 35th Street, the practicing Catholics would gather, usually in the office of Brad Miner, then our literary editor, to indulge in the old, holy practice of saying The Angelus. You’d find Wick (a convert) in the thick of it. It is a good way to remember him, at one with work and God. Would that we could all be remembered thusly. Rest in Peace, old comrade. It is sorely deserved.

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