NEW YORK — Patricia Taylor Buckley, who died Sunday at age 80, was a true original and a fixture of New York society for more than four decades.
Buckley died at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut of an infection following a long illness, according to a statement from her family. Details of a memorial service are still being finalized.
From her love of King Charles Spaniels and gin rummy to her friendships with designers, writers and politicians to her active support for such New York cultural institutions as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Buckley put her unique stamp on everything. At six feet tall, slim, with her hair always a high-rise confection and dramatic eye shadow, Buckley stood out in any room. "She was one of a kind, like a glass of the most wonderful Champagne," said Blaine Trump, who recalled that it was through Buckley's efforts that the Costume Institute gala became a must-have ticket. "She was the kind of woman that inhaled life and when she walked into a room, you knew she was in there. She was a grande dame."
Stories abound of her eccentricity, which bordered on madcap Auntie Mame's or, in its adventurousness, what Trump compared to "Calamity Jane's." Buckley painted her house in Connecticut a shade of Bermuda pink and, when asked why, responded, "So all the sailors will come and see me."
At the gala two years ago for the Chanel show at the Costume Institute, where she was an honorary director, Buckley attended even though she had to walk with a crutch after injuring her leg. Asked how she was managing, she promptly replied, "Oh, I love it. I whack people with it and they immediately get out of my way!" And she proceeded to wend her way through the crowd doing exactly that.
Buckley hated Canadian geese, which often would land on her lawn. Spotting them, she would pop out of bed in her nightgown and take pot shots to scare them away.
Once, entertaining Nancy Reagan, as Pat Buckley and her husband, William F. Buckley, did regularly, one of her beloved King Charles Spaniels wandered in and proceeded to relieve itself on the carpet. "Pat didn't bat an eyelash and just bent down and picked it up," recalled John B. Fairchild, former chairman and editorial director of Women's Wear Daily and W. "Anything would go with her. She wasn't conventional. She was the wild card in New York society, and was one of the few members of that group who wasn't stuffy."Longtime friend and "Suzy" columnist Aileen Mehle, who spent many Christmases with the Buckleys, said, "Her table was famous, her food and style were renowned. Everything was snap, crackle and pop with Pat."
Oscar de la Renta, whose designs Buckley wore throughout her life along with those of Bill Blass and Valentino, said, "Pat Buckley was one of the great pillars of New York society. For years she ran the Met's Costume Institute event and did an excellent job. Pat was an extraordinarily gallant lady who was very generous and loving."
"Her life was a combination of politics, pop culture and fashion," recalled Calvin Klein. "There will never be another one like her."
Reinaldo Herrera called Buckley "a force of nature. So energetic, full of life, full of fantasy, a great friend, a great wife, truly a personage to be in awe of. Bill and Pat made a wonderful couple — he was the intellectual, and she was incredibly cultivated and had interests everywhere."
The Buckleys met when William Buckley came to visit his sister Pat at Vassar, and his sister decided her favorite brother and her roommate, the daughter of a Vancouver, B.C., multimillionaire entrepreneur were perfect for one another — even though the Buckleys were Catholic and Pat Taylor was an Anglican. The Buckleys married in 1950 in what was then the largest wedding in New York history. They had one son, writer Christopher Taylor Buckley of Washington, D.C., who survives her, as does her husband, her daughter-in-law Lucy Gregg Buckley, two grandchildren, Caitlin and Conor, and 52 nieces and nephews.
William Buckley was, and is, a member of that dying breed, the public intellectual; all of his life, he has advocated for conservative causes, often extremely vehemently. Buckley's first book, "God and Man at Yale," was published in 1951. He went on to found the National Review, created a popular talk show, "Firing Line," wrote dozens of books, ran for mayor of New York and engaged in public feuds such as that with Gore Vidal in which the two famously exchanged insults — Vidal calling Buckley a "crypto-Nazi" and Buckley in turn referring to him as a "queer."Pat Buckley once said her primary interest was to do a lot for her husband.
In 1971, she modestly told McCall's magazine, "I guess the only thing I do really well is run a house."
But she did so superbly. With the help of her staff, she ran three dwellings in all: one in Stamford, where the Buckleys sailed their two yachts; one a Park Avenue duplex apartment that had formerly belonged to Dag Hammarskjöld, and the third a chateau in Rougemont, Switzerland, they rented for three months every year. They also went to Europe about six times a year and spent a couple of weeks in Greece in the summer.
Buckley rose every morning at seven to plan menus, did her own grocery shopping and often cooked alongside the cook, especially if large numbers were expected for dinner. She said to WWD's sister publication W in 1984, "I like simplicity...Diet Pepsi and loads of Lea & Perrins sauce for Bloody Marys."
Despite her husband's conservative leanings, party political allegiance made no difference at their dinner parties. Good conversation was the key priority, and Buckley encouraged discussions about politics and books as well as the latest gossip. That's why one of her favorite tips was to always have round tables. "You'd sit at a round table, usually with eight or nine others, and she'd have lamb chops — but huge piles of them, enough lamb chops to feed an army," Fairchild recalled. "She wanted everyone to have a good time. She was a female bon vivant and liked to kick off her shoes and get excited about things."
"She had chic without couture," added Kenneth Jay Lane. "The world will miss her humor, which sort of set her in a very special place in New York. She's irreplaceable. All of us were great friends, along with Nan Kempner, and without the two of them, New York society will never be the same."
Buckley didn't hesitate to give an opinion on everything from books, which she devoured, to flirting (she felt it was at the center of any good conversation) to gardening, which she also adored. "What can I say about my style?" she asked W in 1977. "It's just me, and I try to be fairly orderly, but it's not possible. If I were extremely orderly, I would be bored. With Bill, you never know where you're going to be and what is going to happen. One day you can be on a sailboat, the next day in New York, I like it that way."Buckley realized that a mishap — and there always seemed to be plenty around her — can turn into a terrific anecdote. "Bill Blass said to me, 'Never in my life have I seen you travel in a chic fashion,'" Buckley once recalled before cheerfully offering an example of her and Blass in decidedly nonchic transit: "We were driving down to the Reagan inauguration from New York, and what that car was like, I can't tell you. We had Barbara Bush's clothes [which Blass had designed for the occasion] and my own, so there were all these evening gowns that I'd done up in plastic. Then there was cheese and wine, most of which Mr. Blass had managed to spill all over my pants. When we got to the Fairfax, I said, 'There's no way I'm getting out of this car and publicly walking into that hotel. We're going through the service entrance.' Which we did."
But she was also an immense advocate for the causes she cared about. "I don't have hundreds of thousands of dollars to give away, so I give in service; I do it because I think it's necessary; there are certain institutions I think need support," she once said.
Then, in true Pat Buckley style, she added, "Oh, support — supportive, I hate the words. It sounds like a truss for a hernia." — Lorna Koski, Dianne M. Pogoda and Michelle Edgar
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