Last night a large group of people gathered at the Metropolitan Club for an evening in honor of Neal Kozodoy upon his retirement as editor of Commentary. Neal has served on the staff of Commentary since 1966, and as its chief editor since 1995.
John Podhoretz, Neal’s successor at Commentary, served as the Master of Ceremonies. Among those making remarks were Bill Bennett, David Brooks, David Gelernter, Bill Kristol, Ruth Wisse, and Norman Podhoretz. President Bush wrote a letter commemorating Neal’s contributions. And the capstone of the evening was Neal’s response — gracious, extraordinary in its eloquence, and moving without being sentimental.
There was a lot of humor and good-natured comments about Neal’s exacting standards as an editor (“the butcher of East 56th Street” is how Bill Bennett referred to Neal). But what was most in evidence, in both the public remarks and the private conversations, were people’s enormous regard and affection for Neal. It is born of many things, including his willingness over the decades to labor on behalf of great causes — the West, its highest ideals, and its staunchest defenders; his willingness to do so in relative anonymity; his uncompromising standards and integrity; and his personal kindness, wit, and friendship.
And then there is Commentary itself, the handiwork of Neal’s life and the reflection of his own excellence. If a magazine ever embodied the gifts and labor of a single man, it is true of Commentary and Neal, just at National Review was a reflection of Bill Buckley. They are men who shared very little in common, and yet, almost everything important in common.
Neal Kozodoy has not only shaped a journal of opinion; he has been a key, if largely unheralded, figure in shaping the intellectual and moral debates of our time. He has stood for, and against, all the right things, with clarity and with courage. Though he is retiring as editor from Commentary, he remains affiliated with it as editor-at-large. He will be heard from again and again over the years. But last night was about looking back, for just a few hours, in gratitude for one man’s remarkable contributions.