A Woman Who Made the World Better

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In a city where friends are supposedly scarce, Kate O’Beirne was beloved by so many. 

Kate died this past Sunday -- Divine Mercy Sunday -- surrounded by family and loved ones.  Kate would point out that there was no need to identify the date she was born. She was old-school like that, so I’ll respect it. What was more interesting anyway is how she lived, not how long. She was an important conservative thought leader and superb political commentator and an incredible wife, mother, friend. She jumped out of the frame the political left wants to construct for women of the right: Kate was cool and beautiful, smart and quick, conservative and elegant, wise and feminine, kind and thoughtful, faithful and fun. She could talk comfortably to everyone: intellectuals and political activists, politicians and priests, men and women, liberals and conservatives. She only put bullies and fools in their place. There was no Narcissus in her beauty.

She had always been popular. Her high school nickname was “Kate the Great.” But here's the thing: She always used her popularity to include people (the shy, the awkward, the newcomer) and to help others. It was always about others with Kate. Always. Right to the end. "Don't you agree, David?” “What do you think, Father?” “Am I right, Susan?” Always pulling others into the conversation. Always with their names. She consciously worked not to dominate any discussion. She wanted others to shine. 

That was Kate. An ordinary woman with extraordinary grace. Look back at her appearances on “Meet the Press” or “The Capital Gang.” She treated the liberal arguments with respect and tried to understand and distill them. Sometimes, before going on air if an opponent didn’t have time to prepare, Kate would offer them the best arguments from their side. She was generous like that—and intellectually honest in that way. She could make the most incisive counter-argument or withering riposte without losing her dignity or humiliating her adversary. She could be funny, too, no matter the seriousness of the subject matter.  Once on “Meet the Press,” she was on a panel discussing Bill Clinton and the existence of that fateful "blue dress," as well as the impact of a recent papal visit to Cuba. After discussing Clinton, she said we should take a moment to cleanse our palate before we discussed Pope John Paul II and the grace being showered upon Cuba. 

Kate accomplished so much professionally -- St. John’s University law school grad, aide to Sen. James Buckley, policy adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services, television commentator, Washington editor for National Review and director of National Review Institute. Not many people know that William F. Buckley wanted Kate to assume his mantle as editor-in-chief of National Review. She turned Bill down and lifted up Rich Lowry. In a city where people crave the attention television provides, she turned down a Sunday talk shows because it would take her away from her family. She wore her fame lightly, treasuring her role as wife and mother of two extraordinary sons, Phil and John. She was, to paraphrase Tom Wolfe, a woman in full.

Kate’s own book was called “Women Who Make the World Worse.” Kate made the world far better. A happier place, a more joy-filled place, thanks in part to a stiletto-heeled sense of humor second to none. Kate was quick and full of sass. I was about to write “irreverent,” but the hallmark of her humor was really an irreverent reverence. Once, when we were touring Saint Peter's in Rome and were at the balcony window where the newly elected pope steps out to greet the crowds, Kate peeked behind the sheer curtains to see St. Peter's Square below. A monsignor pulled her back and she said, "Oh, I wanted the faithful to say, 'Habemus Papam! We have our first blond pope!'" On another occasion, just after there was some concern about Pope Francis and the direction of the extraordinary synod, Kate immediately emailed me: “It's finally official: I'm now more Catholic than the pope.”

Kate used her Catholic humor for more than laughter. She was instrumental in bringing many people into the church. To one brilliant adult potential convert she said, “You are just too smart not to be a Catholic.” She was the godmother of Robert Novak who converted later in life. At one awards dinner for him, she said, “I am Bob Novak’s godmother. Imagine how cute he was at his baptism.” Obviously, she delighted everyone who struggled to imagine the famed conservative scourge of journalism – the so-called “Prince of Darkness” -- in baptismal white.

Another iconic conservative, legal scholar Robert Bork, was 76 years old -- even older than Bob Novak was when he joined the church -- when Kate helped him through the conversion. Glancing at his two Hibernian-named sponsors, Kate O’Beirne and John O’Sullivan, Judge Bork quipped that he was becoming not just Catholic, but an Irish Catholic.

“Beware the sin of pride, Bob,” Kate quipped right back.

In 1995, Bill Buckley wrote Kate to thank her, presumably, when she come on board National Review.  “Now,” he said, “I have NOTHING to fear.” One of the last things Kate said to a small group of girlfriends was this: “When you have faith, you have nothing to fear.”

Indeed.  Requiescat in pace, Kate the Great. 

Ann Corkery is a lawyer in Washington, D.C., and a former delegate to U.N. Commission on the Status of Women.

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