When great ones pass, may they pass the torch.
I have seen a number of very moving and inspiring testimonials lately to great people who have recently passed from this world, written by those who knew and learned from them and knew how to write well of those lasting impressions. We can learn from those, and what we learn is of great and lasting value, especially the more their witness to charity and dignity is lacking in this cultural climate.
Michael Cook wrote this about Brian Harradine.
Brian began as a union organiser and Labor Party stalwart in Tasmania and rose to national prominence by dint of hard work and his steely intellect. But in 1975 he was expelled from the Party for denouncing Communist infiltration. It was a bitter blow, but he immediately stood for the Senate as an Independent and was elected easily.
Look at his witness and adherence to principles, and tenacity in not only defending but advancing them.
He spent the next 30 years in the Federal Parliament, where he fought tirelessly for his constituents and for causes that he believed in passionately – workers’ rights, Aboriginal rights, the rights of the family, and the rights of the unborn. I don’t think that there has ever been an Australian politician who fought harder and longer for the pro-life cause than Brian Harradine.
He also knew what families are all about. In 1980 his wife died, leaving him with six children. A couple of years later he married Marian, a widow with seven. The family of 15 lived in a modest house in a modest suburb.
Being an independent in Canberra was a lonely job. But all the parties respected his conviction and toughness. They had to. From 1996 to 1999 he and another independent held the balance of power and the government ate humble pie to secure his vote. He was unpretentious but he knew how to leverage his position and he drove a hard bargain…
He was also a man with a deep Catholic faith which kept him smiling through hard times at home, disappointments in politics and his years of illness. I shall miss him.
And so will the world, those who knew him and those who never did, because now they will not. Except through those who carry on the virtues and character he embodied.
Kathleen Parker wrote this about Reid Buckley.
He was, as I wrote in a long-ago Town and Country profile of him, a force of nature — driven by an insatiable curiosity, a joy of learning, and apparently a need to salvage what he could of Western intellectual tradition by infecting others with his passion. The Buckley School of Public Speaking has been a tiny incubator where minds were nourished during a brief respite from the mundane and then released back into the world with the sublime command to go forth and multiply.
Reid was nourished in turn by the transformation of students who under his tutelage morphed from timid mumblers into Shakespearean actors. Reid taught confident articulation by applying the debate skills he mastered first at Yale, where he was president of the debate club, and later as an itinerant debater opposite his liberal counterpart, Max Lerner. The two performed formal debates on college campuses during the 1960s, disagreeing civilly on the issues of the day.
The transformation wasn’t only practical but also spiritual. There was something magical and transcendent about entering Reid’s world. He immanentized the eschaton even though, theologically and politically, he opposed such utopian fantasies. Perhaps it was the intoxication of jasmine growing along the school’s antebellum porch. Or maybe it was the smell of hundreds of books, a fair portion of which were written by various Buckleys. Mostly, I think, it was exposure to knowledge, truth, and beauty, and delight in feeling a part of something truly special. He raised your game and made you want to be a better human being.
Of how many people can that be said today, with such reverent and eloquent tones?
Reid might not have known who Oprah was, but he could quote Thomas Merton or Socrates or Yeats with the ease of mortals ordering dressing on the side. A devout Catholic, he was serious about his faith but counted atheists among his friends. Ultra-conservative, he claimed most of his friends were liberals because they were more fun. Ultimately, he was a sensualist in love with beauty in all its forms.
This all seems like a bygone era, right? It shouldn’t and needn’t be, especially because the intellectual progeny who spent time in that world are still in this one, disagreeable and uncivil as it is.
To the 5,000-plus students who passed through his school, he was the lamplighter who waved the burning torch and showed the way out of the subterranean tunnels of rigid thinking. If, alas, I am a tad verbose in my praise, please pardon the indulgence. My cup runneth over.
However, it continues to spill forth…
There’s so much more to say. He was a novelist, essayist, and raconteur, a friend to movie stars, bullfighters, and everyday folks. If he had a snobbish bone, he kept it well hidden. His charm lay partly in his eager willingness to accept all men and women as his equals, intellectual and otherwise. He was the happiest of warriors, madly (madly!) in love with his Spanish wife, Tasa, to whom he professed his love nearly every time they spoke. (He did this in Spanish, but I listen in Spanish.)
A devoted father to their ten children, he called family meetings when any child had a problem to solve. He cherished weekends riding a tractor on his farm, inviting friends to stash and drink wine at his country cellar, and summers writing in his beloved Spain. More than anything, he loved his family, his God, and, by no means least, his dogs — all of them regulars at the school.
This is the fullness of a life well lived, and I was riveted by the account of it, inspired by the sheer nobility of such a witness to discipline, study, hard work, teaching, mentoring, conversing, debating, socializing and sharing, treating everyone with equal dignity and humanity. In other words, a gifted intellect who realized his gifts, a believer who lived his beliefs in every fiber of his living and being, and therefore witnessing faith, hope and charity. To the end, when it was clear it was the end.
When another staff member, Caroline Avinger, visited, Reid urged her not to be sad. “We’re believers, dearest,” he said. “We know how the story ends.”
We are all inconsolably sad, anyway. With Reid Buckley’s earthly departure, Western civilization has lost one of its fiercest gladiators and God has gained the delightful company of one of his most joyful servants. Reid’s parting words at the end of each seminar seem a fitting close to these recollections and a testament to an examined life well lived:
Through your efforts you have advanced in a mighty and terrible power, the art of persuasion. It can be used equally to advance good or evil. May you exercise this power always in the love of truth, decency, and the defense of the poor and weak.
Do you own to a god, may He be your witness and your judge should you betray this trust; if you do not own to a god, may your conscience be your scourge and also your salvation. And so help you, may the lucidity of your reason be guided by the purity of your heart.