Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Gift of a Letter

While reading the various essays about William F. Buckley Jr. this week, one of the things that really struck me was how many people wrote him fan letters and in return received not only the gift of a letter, but his ongoing friendship and even career advice and support.

A few of the delightful stories shared in the last few days:

David Asman (subject link): "I first sent him a letter when I was in college and was thrilled to get a personal response, which read at the bottom 'dictated in Switzerland,' where he went every year to ski and write yet another one of his many books. We kept corresponding, and when I graduated, he offered to give me ad space in his magazine to advertise my meager journalistic skills. That ad led to a job with a magazine, and I kept going from there, occasionally working for Bill at National Review."

Mona Charen: "When the terrible sad news of Bill Buckley’s death came, I reached for my folder of letters we’d exchanged over the years. It’s a thick file, and it makes me well up a bit to realize that I can expect no more bright white envelopes with the familiar blue lettering.

"That Bill should have taken notice of me at all was a bit incongruous. By the time I was old enough to write to him — the 1970s when I was in high school — he was a world-renowned public intellectual. Yet he took the time to answer a girl’s letter. The entire neighborhood must have known that something unusual had happened at 11 Tiffany Drive after the mail was delivered because I was soaring like a kite. Bill did that for literally thousands of people over the years — it was an aspect of his incredible generosity of spirit."

Larry Perelman, who was Buckley's dinner guest the night before he passed away: "My parents and family fled the Soviet Union in the 1970s and I was the first American-born child in my family. I wrote to Bill at the age of 18 expressing my gratitude to him for having emboldened Soviet Jews to come to this great nation, and asking for the opportunity to express my gratitude to him by playing the piano. Now, here we were, 14 years later, toasting to all good things with vodka and red caviar. It was very special..."

Mark Levin: "When I was about fourteen years old, I sent Mr. Buckley a short manuscript on conservatism. I told him I’d appreciate his input as I would like to get it published. It was a pretty bold endeavor, bordering on the silly. But the manuscript wasn’t all that bad for a fourteen year old. It certainly wasn’t up to Mr. Buckley’s standard. Still, Mr. Buckley took time from his incredibly busy schedule to write a kind letter to me. He let me down gently, explaining that I might want to continue to my studies and give publishing another shot a few years down the road. LOL. I wrote him a few more times back then about different issues, and he always responded with a pithy and gracious note."

Terry Eastland: "I once wrote a letter to my hero, hoping to get one back. This was early in 1976, and I'd recently taken my first newspaper job. William F. Buckley Jr., who was willing to challenge liberal orthodoxy and defend traditional norms like no one else, was as famous as I was obscure, and I could think of no good reason he would actually write back. He was, after all, the most prolific writer around, and he did his weekly Firing Line show and all the speeches, and then there was the skiing in Switzerland, the transatlantic sailing, and more.

"But the busy Buckley-'Dictated in Switzerland, Transcribed in New York,' it said atop the page-wrote was the next sentence that bowled me over: 'That was a splendid essay you did on C.S. Lewis.' It had appeared eight months earlier in the old Alternative, soon to be renamed the American Spectator, and it was my first magazine piece ever. That Buckley could remember it at all astonished me. That he liked it was a huge encouragement to someone toiling in the newspaper equivalent of low-A ball."

Lovely stories about a lovely gentleman.


Blogger Dana said...

Laura, I couldn't agree with your more. The letters are inspiring at the least, and motivators to live life with sound thinking, consistent faith, and kindness toward others always.

I was particularly fond of David Brooks' letter of irony as he, in his early years, mocked WFB's writings and lifestyle, yet later was the recipient of a gracious job offer by none other than WFB himself.

7:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Dana, what a wonderful column by Brooks. In case your link doesn't work, here it is.

Thanks much,

9:48 PM  

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