April 24, 2007
The first time I met Pat Buckley was in 1964 and the circumstances were rather strange. It was at the Palace hotel in Gstaad, and a few friends and I
were drinking around the large piano in the grill while the pianist was playing a spirited version of Mussolini’s favorite tune, “Giovinezza.” Our singing the ode to youth and fascism apparently did not best please a tall, bald man standing at the bar who suddenly threw his whiskey glass at us. It smashed against the wall showering us with glass, although no one was cut or seriously hurt.
Under normal circumstances a fight would have ensued but there was a problem. The tall baldie had his arm in a cast, and an even taller lady was giving him hell for having thrown the projectile. So as five rowdies surrounded the couple demanding an apology—it was not given—the lady turned to me, the obvious ringleader and Mussolini fan, and in an upper class accent asked me to dinner “at the chateau, tomorrow evening, and don’t be late….” This did have a calming effect and we soon dispersed. At the time I had heard of Bill Buckley but had never met him or ever read National Review. (I was living in Europe at the time). I was intrigued and very curious to meet the Buckleys, so the next evening I drove to nearby Rougemont, where the 16th century Chateau de Rougemont was rented by the Buckleys every winter for close to 35 years. I was not to be disappointed.
The glass thrower turned out to be Alistair Horne, the historian and a man who was to become a very close friend. Ken Galbraith was also present,
and upon hearing the circumstances of how Horne, Pat and I had met, immediately lectured me against the theory that anyone who can make the trains run on time in the land of pasta must be a very good man. There was also Dimitri Nabokov, son of Vladimir, David Niven and his wife, and Bill Buckley’s sister Patricia. Pat seated me on her right, as I was a first time guest, a noblesse oblige gesture which did not go unnoticed. As Rick told Captain Renault, it was the start of a beautiful friendship which ended early Sunday morning, April 15, 2007.
Pat Buckley’s numerous obituaries have mentioned her charitable and social activities which were awesome, to say the least, and also how she always described herself as a mother and housewife, first and foremost. Obituaries by nature have to stick to facts, and because of the dryness of facts, at times the real person does not emerge. What always came to mind first about Pat was her incredible sense of humor. She looked and acted like Kay Kendall, the English madcap actress of the late Fifties, pretending to take umbrage at the dirty jokes I was always on about, and screaming at the top of her lungs whenever I would bring some floozy to her house. “You are not welcome here unless my darling Alexandra is with you,” she would shout, and then wink at me and tell me to sit down.
One year, 1970 I believe, I had lost all my money gambling and was staying at the chateau after Pat had taken pity of my reduced circumstances. Christopher Buckley, back then a 14-year-old, had shortsheeted my bed and attached a large bucket of water over my bedroom door, a bucket that would tilt the moment the door was opened. The reason for this was that I had yet again got into a poker game in Gstaad, and had gone missing for couple of days. Pat and Bill were going to a gala dinner that night, and Pat, worried about my long absence, went to my room to leave me a note. Drenched and her dress ruined she sat on my bed and roared with laughter, thinking it was I who had set the trap.
That’s the kind of person she was. She always saw the funny side first. When I started writing for National Review she prevented me from going to
Albania because she thought it too dangerous. When I protested to Bill he shook his head and said, “Well, you know how Patsy is once she gets
something into her head…. “You cost me a Pulitzer Prize, I complained to Pat, but it was nothing doing. “I don’t care what I cost you, you are not going to that horrid place.”
And so it went throughout the years. One summer on board my boat Pat took one look at the Spartan surroundings, and in no time had the whole thing outfitted with modern comforts. Two years ago she came on my new boat, sweetly complimented me, and told me how she missed the old sailer and the incredible discomforts sailing her entailed. She lived in great pain for most of her life but I never heard her complain once. In this day and age where everyone feels a victim, Pat Buckley was a shining example of fortitude and courage and grace under pressure. My heart goes out to her husband of sixty years who has lost a unique treasure.