02/28/2008 07:49 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

William F. Buckley -- Words Never Failed Him

William F. Buckley struggled with the pain and inconvenience of emphysema for years, but it was only when he broke a bone in his right hand -- the hand he wrote with -- earlier this month that the decline of a man who very much lived by words accelerated. He sent out a note to a few close friends essentially saying that he knew the end was near.

It came at the desk in his study yesterday morning, perhaps as Buckley was struggling to put the finishing touches on his latest project -- a book on the president he helped bring to office that he planned to call The Reagan I Knew. That project was far enough along it will no doubt be published posthumously. Here's hoping he finished enough of another book on Barry Goldwater that we will be rewarded with that as well.

It is ironic that Buckley's last works should hearken back to his fellow giants in the conservative movement. In an interview with Buckley in 2005, conservative columnist George Will told him: "Without Bill Buckley, no National Review. Without National Review, no [Barry] Goldwater nomination. Without the Goldwater nomination, no conservative takeover of the Republican Party. Without that, no Reagan. Without Reagan, no victory in the Cold War. Therefore, Bill Buckley won the Cold War."

Buckley, of course, demurred at that compliment, but there was a real kernel of truth to it. He was that rarest of revolutionaries -- someone who unfailingly set about to change the world, largely succeeded and yet retained a zest for the non-political, a gentleness of spirit and a boyish charm into his 80s. He set a standard we all should emulate for having friendships across the political divide.

In the end, he left untold riches behind. He inspired three generations of conservatives, including me. I first met him at a taping of his TV show Firing Line at a public television station in California back in high school. He was unfailingly polite and helpful and I can genuinely say he helped inspire me to become the writer I am.

He seemingly had time for everyone who sought him out, despite a work schedule whose partial output included 55 books (both fiction and nonfiction); 1,429 separate Firing Line shows and 5,600 newspaper columns. Now it is incumbent on all of us to take the time to appreciate a great man and mourn his loss.