William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, a former chairman of the News and the father of the American conservative movement, died this morning at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.
The cause was not immediately known, but Buckley had been ill with emphysema, The Associated Press reported.
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From his days as an eloquent orator in debates at the Yale Political Union as an undergraduate to his decades as a prolific columnist, author and television host, Buckley was a force to be reckoned with in weaving conservative ideals into the mid- to late-20th century American fabric — ideals developed, in large part, during his time at Yale.
To liberals, he was, in the famous words of the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. famously put it, “the scourge of American liberalism.” To his fellow conservatives, he was an icon; President Ronald Reagan called him the most important journalist and intellectual of his era.
And in 2000, the University recognized him at commencement with an honorary doctorate. “At Yale, your sharp, youthful observations stirred controversy but also challenged us to self-examination,” his award citation read. “Years later, your precise use of language was appreciated by those Yale students fortunate enough to gain admission to your seminars on writing.”
Buckley graduated Yale in 1950 with a degree in political science, history and economics, but he found he had more to say about the University than all that had filled the editorials in the News that he penned.
Professors, he long thought, were forcing their liberal ideology on students. His 1951 book, “God and Man at Yale,” criticized the Yale faculty for abandoning what he described as principles of individualism and religion and condemned them for abandoning Yale’s Christian heritage.
And while critics assailed the work, it launched him on a path to fame.
After Yale, Buckley spent a short stint in the Central Intelligence Agency, and then worked as a freelance writer. In 1955, only five years removed from New Haven, the 29-year-old Buckley founded the National Review, which today remains a leading conservative magazine.
The magazine, Buckley wrote, would “stand athwart history yelling, ‘Stop!’”
From 1966 to 1999, he also hosted the Emmy-winning interview show “Firing Line,” prodding guests ranging from Jack Kerouac to Margaret Thatcher, not to mention every president since Richard Nixon. And over the years, Buckley would author more than 40 books, as well as a bi-weekly newspaper column, “On the Right,” which was syndicated to more than 300 newspapers.
Buckley’s more than than 5,000 columns — including one he wrote for the News in 2006 after the death of former University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin ’49 DIV ’56 — amounted to an estimated 4.5 million words over the decades. As a writer, dashing off columns in under an hour, he was nothing short of prolific.
And, as he saw it, nothing short of correct, too.
“I am, I fully grant, a phenomenon, but not because of any speed in composition,” he once wrote in The New York Times. “I asked myself the other day, `Who else, on so many issues, has been so right so much of the time?’ I couldn’t think of anyone.”
In November 2006, Buckley returned to Yale to address the YPU, and stunned those in attendance by declaring that his remarks would amount to his final public speech on public affairs.
And even in his valedictory, he was no less direct about the principles he believed in. “The Democrats are dominated by greedy, hypocritical thought,” Buckley said in his speech, in which he flippantly chastised the party for its response to the war in Iraq.
Buckley — who received the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1991 from George H.W. Bush ’48 — said in e-mail messages to the News over the last year that he was in ailing health. But his death Wednesday was unexpected; it was in his study where he died, according to a posting on the National Review’s Web site.
Born November 24, 1925, in New York City, William Frank Buckley Jr. — known as Bill — was the sixth of ten children of Aloise Steiner Buckley and William Frank Buckley Sr., a wealthy oil baron. He spent his childhood in France and England and, for high school, attended the Millbrook School, a respected prep school in New York State.
In 1943 to 1944, Buckley attended the University of Mexico, then went on to serve two years in the U.S. Army. He came to Yale in part because of its proximity to the family’s residence in Sharon, Conn., about 50 miles northwest of New Haven.
Buckley married Patricia Alden Austin Taylor, of Vancouver, after graduating Yale in 1950. They had one son, Christopher Buckley ’75, an author known for his 1994 novel, “Thank You For Smoking.” The elder Buckley’s wife, who was a prominent socialite, died in April.
Buckley is survived by his son Chris, brothers Reid and James and sisters Priscilla, Carol and Patricia.