Even if you think you’re a fair or, I daresay good, public speaker, a tune-up every now and then is a good thing. I was in need of an overhaul and, because of it and at the recommendation of a friend, found my way the Buckley School for Public Speaking in Camden, South Carolina.
Yleem and I were saddened to learn that Reid Buckley, the school’s founder, had passed away last week. Unless you’re a political junkie, you probably did not know who Reid was, but you should. A lover of people, life, poetry, and the art of verbal jousting, Reid, as well as his crew at the Buckley School, mold and reinvigorate. Frankly, Reid’s critiques reminded me, just a little, of the first year at law school.
I stayed in contact with him through the years. And in 2009, while in his beloved Spain, we caught up with Reid and his wife, Tasa, in Comillas, a small little town in the north. “You will not credit this, but neither Tasa nor I has any idea how to receive a message on our cell phones,” he tells me via e-mail a few days before dinner. Just show up Casa Santa at 8:00 and “we’ll sort it all out then.” By the way, his Spanish was very good.
Yleem and I have visited Spain many times. That evening in Comillas remains one of our most memorable. Two other couples joined us for dinner. Although we were the youngest in the lot by far, these folks could have been our grandparents and parents, they had a lot more staying power than most of younger friends.
After a second, or was it three bottles of red wine (after scotch at his place), we talked a plenty, especially about a topic that we rarely corresponded or talked about, politics. I had never discussed or talk about it with him; I never asked about his brother William (Bill) Buckley of National Review. But he knew that Yleem and I lived and worked in the belly of the federal beast, and he also knew my political views on various topics (because of the School).
Reid asked me, half jokingly I think, why was it that I “bothered” with politics. You know, it can be a most “wretched” state, or something very close to that. By that point in the evening, I was lucky if I could string together enough verbs and nouns, at least in English, to answer. Yet Reid, always the gentleman, did not let me answer completely, smiled, and we shared a good laugh. To this day, I have no idea what I said but, Yleem assures me, I said it soberly and with a straight face.
A few months after the Comillas, in response to Yleem’s thank you, Reid tells me that we must have all had a good time, or he was being very diplomatic, because he noticed that “none of your references [about the dinner party] included a highwayman, a purse snatcher, and a political disestablishmentarian.” Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson were nowhere to be seen that evening, but, I knew exactly what he meant. And I laughed as hard as I did that evening in Comillas, minus the alcohol.
We exchanged e-mail, notes, and a call or two through the years. What I admire most about him, was his passion, and he had a lot of that, for living and his rhetorical craft. He cared. Words matter, as well as how you cobble them together and, yes, deliver them to your intended targets. Even if you’re a liberal snob, you can’t help but like the guy too. Yes, even when he tears your argument, with a smile, to shreds.
Mr. Buckley, if you’re listening: “Demasiada cordura puede ser la peor de las locuras, ver la vida como es y no como debería de ser,” Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. Rest In Peace.