The Corner

Priscilla Buckley, R.I.P.

God bless dear Priscilla, my first and in some mystical way my all-time managing editor.

My first thought will strike everyone who knew her: What a delightful and splendid person she was — charming, cheerful, and when necessary tart. These qualities infused her prose (item: her account of the balloon crash), and helped her run an office of often-difficult colleagues. She kept her junior brother in harness; she got John Coyne and Chris Simonds to hit deadlines, which I gather was hard; getting Joe Sobran to do it was impossible, but she gave it the old college try.

This leads to my second thought, which you could miss if you were careless (though not if you read her wonderful memoir String of Pearls): Priscilla was a professional, the only one (John O’Sullivan, and a handful of the founding titans apart) to cross our doors. Her stories of her years at United Press in New York and Paris were legion: how she and Nick King covered France’s doomed war in Indochina from Paris, regularly supplying more local color than the Associated Press journos who were actually on the ground (the secret: Nick had bought a 1900-ish guidebook to Indochina from a Seine-side book stall and simply larded in the details, while the AP guys on the spot were confined by the higher cable rates from Asia); how two drunken reporters would startle tourists in the lobby of the old Daily News building on 42nd St., one by dashing through shouting “Scoop! Scoop!” the other by following him in a minute shouting “Kill that story! Kill that story!” Finally, my favorite, how she covered a ceremony in Paris in which the sultan (later king) of Morocco was reconciled with a rebellious subject, the Pasha of Marrakech. As the pasha approached, he fell to his knees, but the sultan graciously raised him up. Next week when Time Magazine came out, it described the scene this way: As the pasha approached, the sultan’s chamberlain forced his head onto the sultan’s foot. Priscilla knew the Time correspondent and called him to say, that was not what she had seen. He replied, that was not what he had written; his editors in New York had punched up his copy.

She also taught serious lessons, among them this: When describing deaths, in war or in catastrophes, never use “only,” even though the butcher’s bill was much smaller than expected. One dead man may be everything to his family; is everything to himself.

I will be living off her anecdotes, and her wisdom, for the rest of my days.

R.I.P.

Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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