I wasn't ready for prime time, and family or no family -- or maybe because I was family -- he was going to be brutally honest. Tough stuff, that. Thirty years later, I'm finding it equally tough, as I try to find the right way now to bid goodbye to William F. Buckley Jr.
So much has been written about his manifold professional accomplishments -- nothing unique there. So many also have penned such heartwarming personal remembrances. I suppose I could go down that road, but there's a rub here, too. Our friendship was personal, but it was also private, and, dear reader, I hope you will understand my reluctance to open those doors.
Still, I have to say something.
Almost 11 years ago, my own father passed away. He and Bill had been best friends in college, but fierce philosophical disagreements led to open political warfare and ultimately personal estrangement. More than once, they attempted reconciliation -- because they worshipped each other -- but for whatever reason, it was not meant to be. So they suffered privately.
When Bill learned my father was on his deathbed, he called me. There was clear anguish in his voice. "You must call me the moment your father dies. The moment." I didn't, and still don't, understand his reason for that directive, but I honored his wishes the next morning. I gave him the news. He gasped in grief -- and hung up the phone.
That was pretty much my reaction when my sister Maureen called me with the news of Bill Buckley's passing yesterday morning. We'd learn later that he died at his desk, working on his computer.
Over the years we'd traded e-mails, probably by the hundreds. We normally wrote in Spanish, just because. He was always "Mi Tio" to me and I "Hijo Mio" to him -- again, just because. I can smile through the tears because now I know he read my final note, which I sent the day before he died.