By Brian Williams, Anchor and managing editor
A few years ago, while working at CBS, I interviewed William F. Buckley on politics. He was not scheduled to have any office hours in New York that day, so I drove to his home in Stamford, Connecticut. He lived on the water; viewed a certain way, the Buckley family home could easily have been situated on the coast of Maine -- instead, it's on a lovely spot along the jagged Connecticut shoreline, looking out across Long Island Sound, with the spires of Manhattan in the distance.
As a political junkie, I'd been curious to meet him for years. I'd seen him on Firing Line, and as a guest on talk shows. I'd seen his famous televised row with Gore Vidal, and I'd read a few of his books, mostly those about sailing. I knew his life story, his more famous quotes and his capacity to enrage liberals and generally stir up controversy. Our hours together in his home made for an odd combination at first: an erudite, to-the-manor-born Ivy Leaguer and public intellectual, hosting a college drop-out from the Jersey shore. But we quickly came to enjoy each other's company that day, due to his formidable charm. We spent a good long time talking, and truth be told, we did the television interview almost as an afterthought -- much to the consternation of the camera crew waiting for us in an adjacent room.
Somehow the subject turned to peanut butter. I think he had written a piece about it back then, and I must have mentioned reading it. He was thrilled to learn that I was a fellow fan. He led me to the kitchen and showed me his massive supply, in a scene I will never forget: cases and cases of a private-label "Red Wing" brand peanut butter (marketed to independent food stores as the "house brand"), which after years of traveling and taste-testing, Bill Buckley had chosen as the best brand in the land. Out came a spoon which he plunged into the plastic jar -- down the hatch it went -- and once I'd digested enough to form words, I instantly agreed with his assessment.
Weeks after the interview aired, a box arrived at my home. It was a case of Red Wing smooth peanut butter, with a note attached that read, "to a fellow connoisseur with my compliments, WFB."
I try to be diligent about our company gift policy -- as strict here at NBC News as it is at CBS. I am often forced to turn down travel and meal offers, and I often return items sent to me by mail, or if that's not possible I give un-returnable items to charitable causes. But just this once, I let it go. Bill Buckley wanted me to have the best peanut butter in the land -- he meant it as a simple, kind gesture, not meant to peddle influence in any way. I treated my Red Wing supply like its equivalent in gold -- until the last bit was gone.
William F. Buckley was found dead today in the study of his Stamford home, the very room where we spent hours talking on a beautiful summer day years ago. He was one of the transformative figures in modern-era American political thought. He also loved peanut butter, and loved knowing others enjoyed it, too. He was 82.