Last night was pretty rough. I was blithely checking out the new and improved Liberty magazine website when I came to the "Staff" section. I noticed the first entry on that page: R.W. Bradford (1947-2005) was the founder of Liberty magazine. At first, I thought, "Wow! He must have retired." But then I noticed that the dates spanned his life's years. And my heart fell.
I practically grew up reading Liberty -- certainly from the time that I really began to develop my own ideas about things, independent of outside influences. I have not always agreed with every contributor to Liberty, but I have always been challenged by the writing and ideas and spirit of respectful debate. After all, despite points of disagreement, everyone who writes for Liberty begins with the premise that the concept of liberty is, in and of itself, a sacred cause worthy of vigorous defense and passionate exploration.
At two o'clock this morning, I dreadfully picked up my most recent copy of Liberty which had come in yesterday's mail. On the second page of the "Letters" section was the notice of R.W. Bradford's passing. I offer it here as a just testimony of a man who used his brief time on earth to pursue tirelessly the highest ideal he had found -- rational minds examining and advocating human liberty:
R.W. Bradford, founder of this journal, died at his home in Port Townsend, Washington, on December 8, 2005, after a gallant battle against cancer. He was 58.
A future issue of Liberty will commemorate Bill's life. Here it is important to say that he was more than the founder of this journal; he was its brain and soul and vital energy. He envisioned Liberty as an independent journal, bound to no party, sect, or ideological tendency, constrained by no editorial line, and existing solely for the purpose of serving individual freedom by publishing the best libertarian writing that can be found.
To that purpose he adhered unswervingly throughout the nineteen years of his editorship.
To that purpose, Liberty will continue to adhere, in the memory of a great man and in allegiance to the high principles to which he devoted his life.
I cannot help but think that as R.W. Bradford was preparing to leave this world, he must have taken immense comfort in knowing that the beacon was passed to such capable and sympathetic hands as Stephen Cox. He is one of my favorite writers, and I know that Liberty will continue in its trademark excellence, feistiness, quirkiness, diversity, and passion under his stewardship.
I had the privilege and pleasure of meeting R.W. Bradford a few times at free-market/libertarian conferences. He was a rumpled, bearded, abstracted, almost gnome-like, little man with a kind, dreamy face and an unassuming posture. He stood quietly in crowds. I approached him the first time I met him at the Liberty Editors' Conference in 2001. He conversed in a distracted way. Again, I hailed him in 2002 at the Foundation for Economic Education's conference, FEE Fest, in Las Vegas. Even with a reminder of our encounter of a little more than six months before, he seemed confused and bewildered by my salutations. These traits only served to make him more dear to me, since eccentric behavior is just about the only standard among individual liberty types. When I saw him again in 2004 at Freedom Fest in Las Vegas, I did not bother to accost him, but kept my distance and attended his presentations. While vague in personal discourse with a stranger, R.W. Bradford was clear and articulate in his writings and his speeches. His absorption with the cause of liberty was evident and palpable. We could ill afford to lose him. He will be missed.
I pray for the peaceful repose of his soul. My prayers are also for his widow, Kathleen Bradford. It is a sad time.
The Seattle Times Obituary
The Reason On-Line Obituary (with comments)