Magazine article The American Conservative

National Review's Dynamo

Magazine article The American Conservative

National Review's Dynamo

Article excerpt

Jack Fowler, publisher of National Review, called Kevin Lynch in Washington and Kevin emailed me in Laramie on the morning of March 27, a Sunday, to say that Priscilla Buckley had died at home in Sharon, Connecticut, of heart failure after an illness lasting two weeks. Even more than the death four years ago of her brother Bill, her passing seemed to Kevin and me to signal the end of anera.

Kevin and I worked together - indeed, we shared a front office directly beneath Bill's, to which we were connected by a dumbwaiter - at the old National Review, in the days when he served the magazine as articles editor and I as literary, and later senior, editor. In the late '70s and early '80s, Jim Burnham was the dominant intellectual presence, Bill the dominant celebrity, and Priscilla, as managing editor, the humming dynamo at the magazine - not that she did hum, let alone whistle, at her work, great lady that she was (without being a grande dame like her sister-in-law, Pat Taylor Buckley). In my 13 and onehalf years at the magazine, plus four as an in-town contributing editor, I never - literally never - heard a single member of the staff criticize Priscilla, or murmur against her in any way.

If she were Bills indispensable right hand, Linda Bridges, then associate editor, was hers, and the three of them worked together - really, coexisted, at the office and beyond it - like the closest of siblings. Or rather, not like siblings, who do fight on occasion, while Bill, Priscilla, and Linda made a kind of fleshly image of the Holy Trinity, one in being, consubstantial, etc. That is a very, very rare thing among editors, even if two of them were brother and sister. It was not that Priscilla couldn't act firmly, or that she couldn't say no - rather that she could transform a correction into something like a compliment, a refusal into a mutual agreement. In Priscillas case, strength was tact, and tact strength, as she dealt with article assignments and overthe-transom submissions, attended cover and circulation conferences, and coped with overbearing authors (whom I imagined hanging up their phones afterward to go bear down on some other intended, but less formidable, victim), authors' deadlines, typesetters' deadlines (in those happy days of old), and Joe Sobrans deadlines.

And Priscilla was always such wonderful company, whether over the order-in lunches in the library on magazine Thursdays or away from the office. In summer, and on nice days in the shoulder months, she usually left the office on Thursday afternoon to make the two-and-a-half hour trip from Manhattan to Sharon in her refurbished 1960s-something Ford Mustang for a three-day weekend in the country to golf or shoot. At about 1 1 o'clock on such a day, Priscilla was likely as not to lean in through the doorway of the office of one or another of us, displaying her Buckley teeth in a refined grin, to ask, "Would you care to join me for lunch at 12?"

They were the sweetest words we heard all week. Lunch meant Nicola Paone's restaurant, one of the best Italian places in Manhattan, a block and a half away and around two corners from 150 East 35th Street, where I especially enjoyed filet of Dover sole folded over a thin rice filling, followed by fresh berries with Grand Marnier and espresso doppio. Sometimes several editors, or even production staff- National Review really was very democratic in those days - were invited. The food was superb and the conversation relaxed but spirited, often embellished by Priscillas account of her recent balloon tour of the French countryside or weeklong trip by barge down the Loire or the Seine past the son-et-lumiere shows at the great châteaux along the river bank. …

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