82 magnificent years, but he is gone now. WFB was without a doubt the largest influence on my views regarding life, the universe and everything, after my family. I have said here that I am not a Republican or a conservative but that is not because Buckley didn't do more to draw me there than anyone on the left ever could have led me that way.
I read the book the Fountainhead and then Atlas Shrugged when I was too young to know exactly what a profound choice they forced upon me. Ayn Rand required me to choose between socialism and the primacy of the group or individualism and the primacy of the person. It was a simple choice once it was offered and I chose me. The question then became what to do about this world view.
More than anyone else WFB taught me why the individual should never be subordinated to the collective. I watched him on "Firing Line" and learned that the highest form of argument must be done with those you completely disagree with but still respect. He passionately defended his ideas and although an opponents views could suffer withering attack, good humor and grace always dominated.
I remember taking it as a compliment the first time a friend saw "National Review" on my coffee table and noted "It's not surprising that you read "Uptight White Guy" magazine". It only came every other week, but it was a bright light in a dark and ridiculous world. My favorite part was always "Notes and Asides" where WFB would answer letters and where his wit was free and unrestrained. He would never hesitate to puncture the pompous with short, sharp shots.
Arthur Schlesinger Jr. writes to complain about some perceived slight: "I might have hoped that you would have had the elementary fairness, or guts, to provide equal time; but, alas, wrong again." "Dear Arthur," Mr. Buckley replies. "I should have thought you would be used to being wrong."
Last year he released a book compiling these and the title perfectly encapsualates the mood and attitude that were so entertaining in their steadfastness. The book is called "Cancel you own Goddam subscription" which was his retort to someone disgusted by National Review. He opened the gate to any who felt they could poke the lion, and predictably they were shredded.
I read many of his books but I don't think anyone has read them all. My favorites were the sailing books without a doubt. He made some magnificent crossings of both the Atlantic and Pacific with incredible company and reading the accounts was spellbinding. His fascination with celestial navigation was a perfect manifestation of his conservatism. He knew that a man was responsible for taking care of himself and how more simply than using the stars to navigate a sailing ship across vast oceans.
Thanks Bill for every idea you ever midwifed and for standing tallest in the marketplace of ideas. Blue skies and following seas Mr. Buckley.