As he strolled up the aisle toward the front of the Branford College common room Thursday evening, Christopher Buckley ’75 paused at the third row and turned to face a student in the audience.
“Did you finish your homework yet?” Buckley asked John Lesnewich ’13.
“No, I haven’t done it yet,” Lesnewich replied.
“Then you should probably go back and do it,” Buckley quipped.
Buckley, who returned to Yale after being last year’s Class Day speaker, faced a full house in Branford College as he recounted stories of his relationship with his famous parents in a reading from his new memoir “Losing Mom and Pup.” Throughout the hour-long talk, Buckley shared anecdotes from his father’s last years that illuminated the wit, intellect and private life of an otherwise public figure — William F. Buckley Jr. ’50, who is considered to be the founder of the modern conservative movement.
Buckley’s reading was preceded by an introduction by Anne Fadiman, the Francis Writer-in-Residence, who described Buckley as “a sterling exemplar of both lux and veritas.” She said she believes Buckley’s writing will be best remembered for this most recent book.
In one story, Buckley shared a memory from his graduation: After hopelessly searching for his family among the visitors in the Jonathan Edwards courtyard after the ceremony, Buckley ate his graduation lunch — alone — at Yankee Doodle. Later, Buckley discovered his father had left the diploma presentation soon after his name was called among the other last names beginning with “B” and taken his guests to celebrate at Mory’s — without the graduate in tow.
But throughout the presentation, Buckley’s humorous stories made clear his respect and admiration for his father. In one tale, he and his father went sailing in a gale that caused the declaration of a state of emergency across New England. After returning home, Buckley learned that his mother had been endlessly calling the Coast Guard, who was unable to understand why they had gone sailing in such a storm.
“He took risks,” Buckley explained. “They take risks, the great ones.”
At one point, Buckley proceeded to share a long list of his father’s career accomplishments, which included writing 57 books and a thrice-weekly column, founding a magazine, running for mayor of New York and starting a successful television show. But Buckley quickly followed with a list of his father’s personal qualities, including his energy, friendliness and willingness to help others.
When he was still in college, the elder Buckley flew a friend to Boston to see his girlfriend in his private plane, but forgot about Daylight Savings Time. It was already dark by the time he set out from Boston, so he followed the train tracks to New London, where he landed and then hitchhiked back to New Haven.
“He was the kindest man I knew,” Buckley said of his father.
Though Buckley noted that his father rose to fame with his 1951 book “God and Man at Yale” and its attack on 1950s-era Yale College, he said throughout his father’s entire adult life, he held “an abiding love for Yale.”
Students who attended the event said they appreciated Buckley’s sense of humor as well as his sincere, conversational tone.
Jialu Chen ’11, a student in Fadiman’s writing course last semester who had the opportunity to eat dinner with Buckley before the presentation, said she is a admirer of Buckley’s writing and has found it so engaging that she reads it while running on the treadmill. But to hear him live, she added, was a different experience.
“The comedy really comes through when you hear him talk,” Chen said.
The presentation was part of the ninth annual series of Yale College’s Francis Conversations with Writers and Editors.