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William Rusher, 1923-2011

2:55 PM, Apr 20, 2011 • By JOHN P. MCCONNELL
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I don’t think he mentioned the fact in his book How to Win Arguments, but Rusher once told me that he got his earliest debate training at home. His mother and father weren’t really made for each other, and their son grew up in the midst of clashing opinions. He said, “I suppose you learn something about fighting words when you see one conversation after another go right down to a Mexican standoff.” When he went off to college, he recalled, his parents delivered him to Princeton, drove home, and soon commenced a divorce. Afterward, he said with a smile, both remarried to “very nice, quieter spouses who did exactly as they were told.” Yet for all that, he said his childhood had been a happy one; his mom and dad were always sweet and attentive toward him, and they were the only immediate family he ever had. The time he showed me around his new apartment in San Francisco, I noticed in the bedroom large framed photographs of them both.

When his mother died in her 90s, Rusher wrote that she had not been at all pleased about living so long: “‘What is the point?’ she demanded.” There was a little of that in Bill Rusher, too. In retirement he continued writing, serving on boards, and taking long journeys. He loved life. He just wasn’t obsessed with keeping it going. “When somebody says to do thus-and-so because ‘it’ll add three years to your life,’” he told me, “they never mention that those three years will be added at the end!” On the subject of age and health he would repeat a favorite aphorism: “In your thirties, nothing will happen. In your forties, nothing should happen. In your fifties, something may happen. In your sixties, something will happen.” In later years he saw need for an amendment. “In your 70s,” he laughed, “hell breaks loose.” 

In fact he did all right almost until the end, which came on April 16, in the 88th year of his good life. He leaves behind many thousands of fans, hundreds of personal friends, ten or more godchildren, and decades’ worth of debate adversaries who never encountered someone so formidable or impressive. For me, this dignified man was a mentor, an encourager, and always a source of measured, wise, even fatherly advice. It was a great blessing to know William Allen Rusher for the last 24 years of his life, and I will honor his memory for the rest of mine. 

John P. McConnell, former senior speechwriter to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, is a resident fellow at Harvard University's Institute of Politics.

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