I discovered William F. Buckley, Jr. in the late 1980s as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, where I was a pre-med student preparing for a career in organ transplantation. I had been bit by the political bug. It was a consequence of the times: the Reagan years, the end of the Cold War, tumultuous changes in the world. I soon found myself blowing off my Genetics exam to feed a growing obsession with politics, reading every newspaper I could get my hands on, and digging through microfiche to satiate a newfound infatuation with the Cold War.
I was also discovering I was a conservative. And it was that growing ideological realization that prompted me one day to ask my father where I could go to find a conservative magazine. Did such a publication exist? He responded without hesitation: “Buckley’s magazine.” I replied, “Buckley’s magazine? What’s that?” My dad answered: “National Review.”
I hopped in the car and headed to Walden Books at Clearview Mall in Butler, Pennsylvania. I found it—National Review. I couldn’t put it down. There was nothing else like it—nothing. The quality of the writing, the material, the insights, the intellect, the logic, the common-sense thinking combined with erudition, the overall smartness. I read it cover to cover, including the articles I didn’t understand. I allowed the thing to teach me. Malcolm Muggeridge, who’s he? I read and learned. I was enthralled.
That magazine led me in the direction of an entirely different field of study, to where I ended up a professor teaching and writing about those very issues and ideas.
Yet, Buckley impacted me more than that, even though I never met the man. I recall one day almost 10 years ago when I was meeting with Lee Edwards, another leader of the conservative movement, who was at Grove City College to do research for a history of the college. I told Lee about the book I wanted to write on Reagan and the end of the Cold War, and how I needed some funding to be able to go to the Reagan Library to do research. Lee suggested I put together a brief proposal, noting his endorsement, and send it to a small, under-the-radar foundation begun by Buckley to support projects like these by young conservative academics. I did just that, and received a check shortly thereafter. It ultimately led to two books on Reagan, God and Ronald Reagan and The Crusader. When I sent Buckley a copy of the manuscript for the first book, he responded with a short note, dated May 22, 2002, offering a nugget of advice on where to publish the work before closing, “I’m glad the little foundation was helpful in getting this done.”
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."