April 12, 2008
A Eulogy for My Father (Christopher Buckley, This eulogy was delivered on the occasion of the Memorial Mass for the Repose of the Soul of William F. Buckley Jr. on April 4, 2008, at St. Patrick’s Cathedral)
Posted by Orrin Judd at April 12, 2008 6:21 AM
On the day he retired from Firing Line after a 33-year long run, Nightline (no relation) did a show to mark the occasion. At the end, Ted Koppel said, “Bill, we have one minute left. Would you care to sum up your 33 years in television?” To which my father replied, “No.”
Taking his cue, I won’t attempt to sum him up in my few minutes here. A great deal has been written and said about him in the month since he died, at his desk, in his study in Stamford. After I’d absorbed the news, I sat down to compose an e-mail. My inner English major ineluctably asserted itself and I found myself quoting (misquoting, slightly) a line from Hamlet,
He was a man, Horatio, take him for all in all,
I shall not look upon his like again.
One of my first memories of him was of driving up to Sharon, Connecticut for Thanksgiving. It would have been about 1957. He had on the seat between us an enormous reel-to-reel tape recorder. For a conservative, my old man was always on the cutting edge of the latest gadgetry — despite the fact that at his death, he was almost certainly the only human being left on the planet who still used Word Star.
It was a recording of MacBeth. My five-year old brain couldn’t make much sense of it. I asked him finally, “What’s eating the queen?” He explained about the out-out-damned spot business. I replied, “Why doesn’t she try Palmolive?” So began my tutelage with the world’s coolest mentor.
It was on those drives to Sharon that we had some of our best talks. This afternoon, I’ll make one last drive up there to bury him, alongside with his sisters in the little cemetery by the brook. When we held the wake for him some days after he died, I placed inside his casket a few items to see him across the River Styx: his favorite rosary, the TV remote control — private joke — a jar of peanut butter, and my mother’s ashes. I can hear her saying, “Bill — what is that disgusting substance leaking all over me?” No pharaoh went off to the afterlife better equipped than he does.
The last time I was with him in Sharon was last October. It was a fundraiser for the local library, billed as “A Bevy of Buckleys” — my dad, Uncle Jim, Aunt Pitts, Aunt Carol, me — reading from the aggregate Buckley oeuvre — a word I first heard from his lips many years ago, along with other exotic, multi-lingual bon mots: mutatis mutandis; pari passu; quod licet Jove, non licet bovi.
An article had appeared in the local paper a few days before, alerting the community to this gala event. As I perused the clipping, my eyes alighted on the sentence: “The Buckleys are a well-known American family, William F. Buckley being arguably the best known.”
I kept my amusement to myself, and handed Pup the clipping and waited silently for the reaction I knew would come. Sure enough, within seconds, he looked up with what I would describe as only faintly bemused indignation and said, “Ar-guably?”