Memorial Remarks for Pat Buckley
I do not recall ever having been so shocked by the passing of a close friend as by Pat Buckley’s. I somehow never thought of her as subject to the normal rules of our existence. I was amazed to read her age in the obituary pages. It was not that I thought of her as younger but that I considered her neither young nor old – a permanent aspect of my life, whom God in His wisdom had put into the world sui generis and who was meant to succor forever her family and friends.
Alas, as Homer already taught, only the gods are sorrowless. We mortals need to be reminded periodically of the finiteness of our scale, lest we start taking for granted what is really a special blessing, to have known and loved an extraordinary lady, who uplifted us with her gallantry and inspired us with her marvelous sense of humor and, above all, her indomitable character.
The term “larger than life” can be overused; in Pat’s case, it was an understatement. She was married to one of the exceptional human beings of our day, who started a defining political movement, wrote columns, hosted talk shows and wrote annual novels in between several non-fiction books. In due course, Pat’s family was increased by another strong man, her beloved son, Chris, who managed to inherit extraordinary qualities from both parents, including especially Pat’s special combination of passion put forward with a touch of flippancy to avoid making her feelings a burden on others.
Bill and Pat’s relationship was one of the great love stories of our time. Pat supported each of Bill’s efforts despite a premonition that he was overtaxing himself. She did all these things while establishing a personality and a presence uniquely and glamorously her own. In fact, the combination of Pat and Bill brought about a binary reaction that perhaps only a nuclear physicist could adequately comprehend.
Pat did not suffer fools gladly; indeed, as Roger Kimball has pointed out, she did not suffer them at all. Yet her wit was never in the service of demonstrating her own cleverness; rather, it was the passionate expression of a deep conviction or an affectionate appeal to her target that he was good enough in his own right without needing to take himself too seriously. As a result, one felt never diminished by her sallies.
I can testify to this because Pat was no respecter of titles. She used to address me as “my hero,” which I treasure more than any formal recognition. But she would not hesitate to stop me in mid-paragraph to announce that I was making no sense at all.
I was not, by any means, the only public personality of whom she refused to stand in awe.
One Sunday morning, the telephone rang in Stamford at eight or nine o’clock. For Pat, this was earlier than phones were supposed to ring on that day of the week. The voice on the other end said: “The President is calling for Mr. Buckley.” Pat was not amused by either the summons or the hour and replied sharply: “The President of what?”
Perhaps Pat and I got along so well because she was an immigrant like myself. I heard her say on a number of occasions: “I am just a simple country girl from the backwoods of British Columbia.” All I can say is that, if Pat was a typical product of the backwoods of British Columbia, I would tremble to meet a sophisticated country girl from British Columbia.
But there was truth in what she said. I have been the guest of Bill and Pat for over a half-century of friendship, and on every occasion, it was perfectly clear that her life revolved entirely around her husband. “I am an Arab wife,” she used to say about the peripatetic Bill, “When he moves, I strike the tent.”
Once a year, on the day Bill proposed to her over fifty years ago, Pat would put on the dress she had worn that day. She was rightly proud of being able to squeeze into it year after year, though recently the effort was not without its heroic aspect.
At events where Bill was honored, she was both ubiquitous and self-effacing, organizing the celebration but never visibly directing it. When Chris paid tribute to his father, she radiated the glow of a fulfilled life.
In the end, this sophisticated, glamorous woman lived by the most basic of values. What she most cared about was her country and, most deeply, about looking after the men in her life.
I will be forever proud to think of myself, albeit peripherally, as one of those men