By GLENN TUCKER
C-I (camden, S.C.) contributing editor
C-I (camden, S.C.) contributing editor
Friends and colleagues of Reid Buckley are affectionately describing him in a variety of ways today:
Brilliant. Charming. Persuasive. Unpredictable. One of a kind. Maybe even a tad eccentric.
Buckley, 83, died Monday night, only days after being diagnosed with cancer, which had metastasized quickly.
His friends recall a man of deep faith who could use the spoken and written word with great power. They also remember his love of Camden and its people, along with his oft-repeated declaration – only half-jokingly – that the universe revolved around this small South Carolina town.
He embraced life fully, eschewed the ordinary, cast away the mundane and provided a genial effervescence to everyone in his path.
Buckley was one of 10 children of William Frank and Aloise Buckley; his father, a Texas attorney, made a fortune in the oil exploration and speculation business. The couple eventually bought two residential estates: Great Elm in Sharon, Conn., and Kamschatka, in Camden, and split their time between the two.
Fergus Reid Buckley attended Yale, where he was a champion debater. After spending 15 years living in Spain, he moved to Camden in 1971, bringing with him his second wife, Tasa, whom he had met in Spain. Between them, they had 10 children.
He dived headfirst into the life of his adopted town.
In 1988, appalled at the amateurish performance of Union Carbide executives following that company's gas leak disaster in Bhopal, India, he founded The Buckley School of Public Speaking, starting in a small building behind Greenleaf Villa.
His purpose: to stop the hemming, hawing, incoherent babblings of executives and professionals who had microphones thrust into their faces.
Experts scoffed. "Who's going to go to Camden, South Carolina to learn the art of effective speaking?" they wailed.
But come they did, more than 6,000 of them over the years, and almost to a person, they left richer for the experience. He trained CEOs, executives, entrepreneurs, political candidates and some who came simply to experience a bit of Buckley magic.
He populated his staff with bright, articulate, discerning women who also happened to be attractive. It was a successful formula.
A growing part of the business has been the concept of "road shows," in which Buckley coaches travel as a team to conduct on-site seminars for corporations.
They have journeyed throughout the United States and internationally to plant and nurture communications skills in high-level executives, and the road shows are popular with Fortune 500 firms eager to have their employees present the kind of image that The Buckley School teaches.
Karen Kalutz, the school's director, has been there almost from the beginning.
She said that for nearly 30 years she has delighted in Buckley's excitement over seeing conferees improve their speaking skills, often making near-miraculous strides over the course of only three days.
"He took such a delight in teaching," she said. "One conferee e-mailed us after learning of Reid’s death and wrote, ‘I’ll never forget the excitement in him when he was working with people.’"
Kalutz also noted Buckley’s pride in Camden.
"People were always telling him he should move the business to somewhere that was more accessible. But he loved showing Camden off. Camden was part of what he was selling. It mattered to him."
Another Buckley School staffer said, "I was continually amazed at Reid’s power to stand up in front of a group of people and take them into the palm of his hand.
"We have always held a dinner for the conferees on Thursday night, prior to the seminar's final debate on Friday," he said. "At the end of each dinner, Reid would stand up and speak briefly to the participants, and within 30 seconds he could connect with each person both intellectually and emotionally in a way that almost defied belief.
"Reid was able, in a very sincere way, to make the entire group feel as if he was speaking directly and intimately to each of them. Month after month, year after year, I looked forward to his chats – that’s what I called them – with the conferees. It was an inspiring thing to watch."
Hear May DeLoach, who’s worked at the school since 2005:
"Everything about Reid was dramatic, larger than life. There was no halfway with him. He’d read 10 books at a time, using a Sharpie to underline every important word.
"He also had a wicked sense of humor. He was this scholarly, intellectual figure with a boyish sense of humor. He loved to play practical jokes."
She said that many people didn’t know how Buckley loved to help people, not only through the school but in other ways. "He did kind things and he never wanted people to know who was responsible."
Buckley’s personal life was as interesting as his professional one.
Hope Cooper of Camden was at one time his sister-in-law and came to know him well.
"I met Reid when I was 12 and he was about to marry my sister. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with a warm, caring and always entertaining man. My dad was a great sportsman and enjoyed outings with Reid, who he called a fair fisherman but a great shot!"
She recounted Buckley’s appetite for new adventures, some of which could be outlandish.
"Several years ago, my husband Tom and I visited Reid and Tasa in Spain. I was in the wine business at the time and over the course of a very late and very good dinner, we managed to plan the importation of not a case but an entire container of Spanish wine. Life was never dull with Reid."
Buckley often dressed in an unorthodox fashion, with lederhosen, long socks and a cape draped over his shoulders. It was set off by a huge hunting knife which he wore sheathed to his belt.
And there’s no shortage of "absent-minded professor" stories.
A few years ago, Buckley somehow made his way through airport security with the knife still strapped to his side. He was so accustomed to its being there he didn’t think to remove it, and somehow it didn’t set off alarms.
Only after taking his seat in the plane did he discover it, and it took all his considerable powers of persuasion – delivered in a low and calm tone, of course – to persuade the flight attendant it was a mistake and that he didn’t need to be carted off the plane in handcuffs.
Another time, two staffers traveling with him on a Buckley School road show heard an announcement in the Denver airport: "Reid Buckley, Reid Buckley, please report to the customer service desk."
They immediately went there, only to discover Buckley had left his wallet in the rental car outlet and it had been found and turned in by another traveler.
It was simply part of the Buckley charm.
And in the end, of all those descriptions of Fergus Reid Buckley, "charming" might be the one most appropriately used by his friends in recalling him.
One summed it up: he knew what to say, and he knew when to say it.