Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Monday, October 7, 2013

The Man behind the Brain

     William F. Buckley is a man I’ve admired since my college days.  I always enjoyed watching his intellect bury adversaries on the old TV program, “Firing Line,” and in more recent years when his words and ideas continued to challenge my thought process.  Most people at least know his name, so I thought I'd mention some things you may not know about Mr. Buckley.

       If you’re old enough you may remember when Buckley threatened to punch Gore Vidal during a debate on live TV in 1968.  Or his theological discourse with Malcolm Muggeridge, where both men were in agreement.  I have a video of that discussion and still enjoy listening to the harmonious thoughts of two great minds confirming the basis of their mutual belief.

            William Buckley initially gained attention when he published his first book, “God and Man at Yale,” a book that attacked his school for not upholding Christianity and free enterprise against atheism and collectivism.  I recently read “Nearer, My God,” which substantiates Buckley’s deep faith. The placement of the comma in the title is significant.

            Buckley was the force behind the conservative movement.  Even Ronald Reagan relied on him for ideological guidance.  The two families were close friends.  It’s interesting to note that Buckley was a CIA agent in Mexico City during the Korean War.  Maybe that was the source of ideas for his spy novels.

            In addition to authoring numerous books, he founded the National Review magazine.  Several years ago he turned the editorial chores over to Rich Lowry and the next generation of writers.

            In addition to being a prolific writer who never needed a second draft of his writing, Buckley was an outdoorsman and a man of adventure.  He was a passionate skier and a daring sailor, which provided balance to his talent as an accomplished harpsichordist.

            I was honored to meet Buckley – to drink cognac with him and listen to his stories about sailing across the Atlantic, which he did three times and crossing the Pacific using only primitive navigational devices like a sextant.  His challenge was to make these trips without modern technology and navigational equipment. As usual, he was successful.  He was known for docking his yacht too fast and crashing into the pilings, which always resulted in his wife, Pat, yelling at him.

            I met Bill (as he preferred to be called) Buckley shortly after his wife of 57 years had died and at the exact time one of his close friends, Milton Friedman, died.  As you know, Friedman’s economic policies were the antithesis of the Keynesian economics of the Obama administration.
            Buckley never actually recovered from his wife’s death.  He didn’t last long after her death and died in 2008, a couple of years after I met him.  He was 82 when he died at his desk while working on another book.

            I was profoundly impressed by his warmth, friendliness, and his “down-to-earth” and humble demeanor. He was just “one of the boys.”   He treated you like an old friend.  I don’t smoke, but I made an exception with Bill Buckley’s exquisite cigars.

            One of the things that I get a kick out of is that Buckley was a peanut butter fan like I am.  I don’t have his brain and I can’t afford a yacht, but we are on common ground when it comes to peanut butter. Bill started each day with peanut butter on toast and he would only eat a certain brand, telling room service at hotels that he could tell the difference and warning them against switching brands. There were only two brands he would eat – I hadn’t heard of one, but the other was Skippy. 

            This may seem unbelievable, but his son Christopher said he placed four items in the coffin with Bill – his favorite rosary, his wife Patricia’s ashes, the TV remote control,  and a jar of peanut butter.

            When asked what he wanted as an epitaph Bill said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.”  William F. Buckley was a profound intellect and a great man.  It was an honor to meet him.

My good friend Jerry Horton, Bill Buckley turning 80, and some guy with no neck.  Photo by Gayle.


  1. Ralph I enjoyed listening to Bill Buckley even when I was dead set opposed to that which he was advocating. He was a joy to be a part of our lives and was the epitome of what is missing from and has put us in todays situation, Understanding of compromise and respect for your opponent!

    1. I think half the fun was trying to decipher his extensive vocabulary.

  2. Ralph, you continue to amaze me. Perhaps you could finish Buckley's book? My favorite peanut butter is "Adams Chunky" have you tried that one?
    I enjoyed your article as usual. I'm happy you came to your senses.
    Your ole pal,
    Jim Loar

    1. I'll try your recommended peanut butter. Regarding Buckley's book... compared to Buckley's writing, I'm still working on coloring books. Thanks for the note, Jimmy.

  3. I like the title of his book. And I like his epitaph. I am going to read that book. He actually lived beyond most men. Considering the average man's life is in the 70's. How did you meet him Ralph?

    1. Buckley has some health problem in his later years, but it's encouraging to note that he was as sharp as ever and able to keep writing even into his eighties.
      I met him on a cruise.

  4. Ralph, you are indeed a fortunate man to have had a chance to meet "Bill".

    My only slight claim to fame is having met & worked with Francis Schaeffer on a project called "Whatever Happened to the Human Race". His co-author was C. Everett Coop, whom I met and talked with once.

    Those type memories stay with us generally as long as we have memory! I still do!

    1. I think Schaeffer was a great man. I have read most of his books and refer to him quite often. You were fortunate to have worked with him. Too bad his son went off track.

    2. Roger worked with them as well.