William Francis Buckley, Jr. died in his study at his home in Stamford, Conn., on Wednesday, February 27. He was 82 years old. According to his son, writer and satirist Christopher Buckley, “He might have been working on a column.” The younger Buckley noted, “He died with his boots on after a lifetime of riding high in the saddle.” The cause of his death was not disclosed but he had been suffering from emphysema and diabetes.
Buckley, who in 1955 founded the magazine National Review, became an icon of conservatism. He was known for his intellect, wit, skill at debate and acerbic darting tongue. His writing was prolific with scores of books and thousands of newspaper and magazine columns to his credit. Buckley also created Firing Line, a long-running public affairs television program that he hosted for more than 30 years.
Bill Buckley was a man whose passions included skiing, music and sailing. He crossed the Atlantic three times and the Pacific once. His voyages are chronicled in Airborne (1976), Atlantic High (1982) and Racing Through Paradise (1987). In later years he frequently sailed his boat Patito from his home on Long Island Sound with relatives and close friends.
Buckley was keenly interested in navigation, so much so that he created an instructional DVD, Celestial Navigation Simplified, and in his book Airborne devoted about 18 pages to sun sights using the Air Almanac.
About four years ago Buckley decided to sell Patito. His wife Pat had died that spring and his health was not good. He explained his decision to sell his boat, and waxed on about his boats and sailing, in “Aweigh,” an article he published in the July/August 2004 issue of The Atlantic. The piece is bittersweet and humble.
In the last paragraph of the piece he reflects: “When you are in a harbor, there may be four congenial people around the table, eating and drinking and conversing, listening to music and smoking cigars, the wind and the hail and the temperature outside faced up to and faced down. Here, in your secure little anchorage, is a compound of life’s social pleasures in the womb of nature. So, deciding that the time has come to sell Patito and forfeit all that is not lightly done, and it brings to mind the step yet ahead, which is giving up life itself.”
Politics aside, Buckley found common ground with sailors and all those who love the sea. His unique wit and intellect will be missed.