A Great Man Is Gone

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William F. Buckley, Jr. was a man of immense interest to me. I find myself more sorrowful for his recent passing than I expected I would, and it has been certainly more than I have felt for anyone else’s death, among those I never knew personally.

His political genius is renown, his influence is immeasurable, and his contribution to American culture and politics is enormous – reasons enough to pay attention to him. While each of those qualities of Mr. Buckley have evoked a great deal of admiration, respect, and sheer gratitude for him from me, there is yet another characteristic of Mr. Buckley that has drawn me to him more than nearly any other: his speech. That’s right, the way he talks.

Both his inimitable pattern of speech and the very things he said can hold me mezmerized for hours. It is for this very reason I have at times spent hours combing the web for audio and video clips of Mr. Buckley being interviewed or giving a speech. I just enjoy hearing him speak. So much so that when I was ready to buy his book, Miles Gone By, which was a bit of an autobiography, I opted for the audiobook when I found out he had read it, unabridged, himself. Sheer aural pleasure!

His mind was absolutely brilliant, a fertile landscape of ideas and acumen in which there seemed to be no horizon. And his vocabulary and wit famously matched the immensity of his mind. But it was his frequent use of long or obscure English words that make reading and listening to him almost irresistible.

The New York Times wrote:

Mr. Buckley’s vocabulary, sparkling with phrases from distant eras and described in newspaper and magazine profiles as sesquipedalian (characterized by the use of long words), became the stuff of legend.

Yes, and the stuff of learning for a curious mind like mine. He has played a part in fertilizing my own love for learning in general, and of words in particular. He has done more to give my dictionary an eager workout than any other.

It is a thorough delight to watch, listen to, or for that matter, read him, which I often do while trying to imagine hearing the way he would say what I’m reading, which I must admit, is half the reason I read his columns.

He was eloquent, funny, mischievous, gracious, and entirely affable. He was an interesting man with few rivals – certainly no social boor or intellectual bore. Ocean sailor, piano and harpsichord player, television debater, Alpine skier, U.N. delegate, mayoral candidate, and author of over 50 books (including novels) and enough articles to fill another 50, all make him a fascinating figure. I wish I had had the pleasure of meeting him.

William F. Buckley, Jr. will be missed. I, for one, already do.

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