The memorial mass for William F. Buckley, Jr., was held April 4, 2008 at the spectacular St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. Around 2,200 guests filled the church, a fascinating who's who of notable conservatives and political celebrities from Henry Kissinger to Chris Matthews to Tom Selleck. It was a beautiful full Catholic mass reflective of Buckley's many years of Catholic apologetics, lasting almost two hours.
Henry Kissinger gave a moving eulogy, choking up at the end, possibly only the second time ever he has done so in public, the first time being at Richard Nixon's funeral. He began by saying that WFB began four score and two years ago, a subtle way of putting WFB – particularly his verbal ability – in the same league as Abraham Lincoln. Next Kissinger contrasted WFB to Mozart, saying he wrote the way Mozart composed, using words to put cracks in an empire. When Kissinger declared there can be no common ground with evil, one wasn't sure whether he meant WFB or was adding his own opinion.
Kissinger correctly characterized the essence of Buckley by describing how his faith in God formed the foundation of his political greatness. For WFB, secularism was like charity without a cause. Unlike others who had narrow political agendas, WFB's ultimate goal was the delivering of the human spirit. And although WFB never claimed it for himself, only for some of his friends, Kissinger said that WFB had achieved both intellectual and spiritual fulfillment. One of WFB's many Biblical references was that we are like little black sheep who have lost our way – but this was said with insincerity since he never lost his way.
Siblings James Buckley and Priscilla Buckley read from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 and Psalm 121:1-8, and Reverend George Rutler gave the homily (sermon to us Protestants), but unfortunately the acoustics in the church were poor and they were difficult to hear.
WFB's son Christopher, famed humorist in his own right, brought some lightheartedness to the service in his eulogy, observing that the beautiful music (which included some of my favorites, Bach's Air on the G string, the breathtakingly somber Albinoni Adagio, and of course concluding with Firing Line's Allegro Assai from the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F major) was meant as a dress rehearsal for the pope's visit later that month – although WFB would have preferred the order of events the other way around.
Christopher told of his terror growing up as a child on daring family sailing excursions with the "world's coolest mentor." He shared some anecdotes revealing the level of WFB's immense achievements both verbally and literarily. After WFB's show Firing Line show ended, he appeared on Nightline. The host said at the end of the interview "We have only a minute left, would you care to sum up your 33 years on Firing Line in one minute?" WFB's response was simply, "No."
Christopher noted that a man must do three things in his life; write a book, plant a tree, and have a son. While he wasn't sure whether his father ever planted a tree, he was certain he had destroyed many trees with all of the books (55) he'd written. But he'd also planted many seeds.
For those of us who have always been disturbed that WFB permitted Playboy to interview him, Christopher assured us that the article included a scripture reference at the end, "I know that my redeemer liveth" – something only WFB could get included in a Hugh Hefner adult magazine.
At the burial, Christopher put three things into his father's casket: his favorite rosary, the TV remote control, and a jar of peanut butter. WFB had a fondness for peanut butter (the only thing I dare boast I have in common with WFB). Christopher shared one of the political cartoons about WFB's death, featuring St. Peter at heaven's gates saying he was going to need a bigger dictionary.
Not surprisingly, Christopher revealed that WFB was working on another book the day he died. WFB is finally home from sailing. God and WFB at last.
With former H.W. Bush speechwriter and IC contributor Michael Johns outside St. Patrick's cathedral
Notable guests included Rich Lowry, Bill Kristol, Ed Koch, Ward Connerly, John Fund, Lee Edwards, Rep. John Shadegg, Mona Charen, Jonah Goldberg and Lucianne Goldberg, P.J. O'Rourke, Morton Blackwell, Tom Wolfe, Charlie Rose, and George McGovern