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Published: Thursday, 2/28/2008

Writer began conservative 'Renaissance'

FROM BLADE STAFF AND NEWS SERVICES
William F. Buckley, Jr., enjoys a light moment with Charlton Heston during a 'Firing Line' debate in Hillsdale, Mich., in 1990. associated press Mr. Buckley was called by President Ronald Reagan 'the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era.' William F. Buckley, Jr., enjoys a light moment with Charlton Heston during a 'Firing Line' debate in Hillsdale, Mich., in 1990. associated press Mr. Buckley was called by President Ronald Reagan 'the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era.'
LOU KRASKY / AP Enlarge

WASHINGTON - William F. Buckley, Jr., 82, the intellectual founder of the modern conservative movement, who helped define its doctrines of anti-communism, military strength, social order, and a capitalist economy, died yesterday. He had diabetes and emphysema, but the precise cause of death has not been determined.

Mr. Buckley was an editor, syndicated columnist, television and radio talk show host, novelist, and a gifted orator and raconteur. In 1955, at 29, five years after graduating from Yale, he founded the National Review, a conservative magazine.

President Ronald Reagan called Mr. Buckley "the most influential journalist and intellectual of our era."

Mr. Buckley was often described as a "Renaissance man of the right." He had been a covert operative of the Central Intelligence Agency. He spoke with a patrician accent. His wit was trenchant and his sarcasm biting.

Mr. Buckley's syndicated column, "On the Right," appeared in hundreds of newspapers, and his TV program, Firing Line, was carried nationwide on PBS.

TIn the early 1950s, when Mr. Buckley stepped onto the political stage, American conservatism was rudderless, in turmoil, and noisy. Joseph McCarthy, the Republican Red-baiting senator from Wisconsin, was making accusations about communist influences in the federal government, U.S. armed forces were fighting a communist invasion in South Korea, and Sen. Robert Taft (R., Ohio), the longtime conservative standard bearer, had lost the 1952 GOP presidential nomination to Dwight Eisenhower. When Taft died the next year, he left a leadership gap at the conservative summit.

Mr. Buckley was convinced the time was ripe for a new voice, which he proposed to add with the National Review.

In 1951, Mr. Buckley published his first major book, God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of Academic Freedom, in which he accused his alma mater's faculty of a pervasive bias against religion, individualism, and capitalism.

In 1965, he was the Conservative Party candidate in a three-way race for New York mayor with Republican John Lindsay and Democrat Abraham Beame. Mr. Lindsay won, but Mr. Buckley won 13 percent of the vote, more than any previous Conservative mayoral candidate.

Mr. Buckley was educated at Catholic schools in France and England.

He retired as National Review editor in 1990 but wrote a column for the magazine until his death. Firing Line's last broadcast was in 1999.

During the last half-century, Mr. Buckley appeared several times in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, particularly at Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, the small, private, liberal arts college often regarded as a bastion of conservative thought.

Mr. Buckley came to Toledo in 1954 during his rise to prominence as author and editor of the American Mercury. He addressed an audience at the then-Commodore Perry Hotel on, "What Are Our Children Being Taught?"

He later was a Hillsdale College supporter, which has maintained his complete writings on its Web site since 2004.

He was on the search committee that in 2000 reviewed candidates to replace former President George Roche III. He was at the inaugurations of Mr. Roche and his predecessor.

Larry P. Arnn, who became Hillsdale president in 2000, said yesterday Mr. Buckley was a friend of the college for more than 35 years. "A man of learning and faith, he knew enough of the old wisdom to see the foolishness and danger of the new creeds that have grown up to overturn it," Mr. Arnn said. "From a young age, he led the movement that grew up to resist those creeds. His goodness to me since my days in graduate school has been an inspiration."

The college set up a scholarship to honor Mr. Buckley's wife, Patricia, after her death in 2007. "Hillsdale has lost one of its most important friends," William Brodbeck, chairman of the college's trustees, said. "More significantly, America has lost the man who was the heart and soul of the conservative movement."

In 1979, several episodes of Firing Line were taped at College Baptist Church near the school, including a debate between Mr. Buckley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson about U.S. recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

In 1981, he spoke at a dinner for the Friends of the University of Toledo Libraries. Nine years later, he addressed a WGTE-TV anniversary celebration. He drew 1,300 to the Junior League's Town Hall Lecture Series in 1993. Mr. Buckley received an honorary doctorate from Bowling Green State University at the spring, 1987 commencement. for which he was the speaker.



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