Raymond William Bradford, the founder and editor of Liberty magazine, died of cancer Thursday night. He was 58 years old. He gave me my first job in journalism, and I worked for him for three and a half years, squirreled away in his big creaky house in rural Washington state. He slept in the day and worked in the night, and he could talk for hours about American history, fringe politics, old movies, baseball, and his favorite foods. (I remember him querying Backwoods Home magazine to see if they'd be interested in an article on the proper preparation of popcorn.) He loved cats, maps, and motorcycles, and would cite Ludwig von Mises and David Letterman with equal relish. We had a running argument about whether it was possible for one item to be "more unique" than another. Now that he isn't here to correct me, I can say that Bill was one of the most unique people I ever knew.
I'm not sure where he was born, but he was raised in Traverse City, Michigan, the rebellious son of an IRS agent. He'd been active in libertarian circles since his teens, going back to his days editing the mimeographed zine Eleutherian Forum in the '60s; his early articles appeared in a variety of venues, including Reason. In the meantime, he did very well for himself as a dealer in rare coins, and used his earnings to launch Liberty in 1987. It established itself quickly as a lively mix of movement-oriented material -- philosophical debates, recovered libertarian history, critical coverage of Libertarian Party politics -- with the occasional travelogue or movie review thrown in just because it was a good read. As the magazine's audience broadened beyond its initial ideological base, its contents grew more varied as well; the writers soon ranged from Milton Friedman to Bob Black, from Randy Weaver to Randal O'Toole. The quality eventually dipped, but in its best years Liberty published some remarkably good material, all the more remarkable for being produced by a tiny staff on a shoestring budget in the middle of nowhere. We didn't even pay the contributors. For them, like Bill, it was a labor of love.
Eventually we had a falling out, and I spoke to Bill only once after I quit the magazine nine years ago. But in the last few months, after I learned of his condition, I mostly remembered the good times -- all those conversations we would have about everything from Orson Welles to the Civil War. He was an ornery, eccentric, independent man, and he made the world a little richer by living in it.