A Life in Liberty

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Raymond William Bradford – “Raymond” was never used – was born in Detroit, Michigan, on Sept. 20, 1947, the son of Raymond and Eleanor Ritter Bradford, and the third of four children. His father, the descendant of a Mayflower pilgrim, worked for the Internal Revenue Service, ultimately specializing in organized crime investigations. His employment seems to have exerted little influence on the development of Bill’s political ideas. Mr. Bradford refused to talk politics, saying that civil servants shouldn’t let their views be known.

In 1951, Bill’s father was transferred to Traverse City, a small town in northern Michigan, and moved his family there. The provincial environment did nothing to limit Bill’s intellectual development. In high school, he read Barry Goldwater’s “The Conscience of a Conservative,” then works by Ayn Rand and the libertarian economists Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Murray Rothbard – advanced studies for a boy in high school. In this period of intellectual excitement, his ideas moved quickly from conservatism to libertarianism.

In 1965, Bill entered Grand Valley State College in Allendale, Mich., and was graduated in 1969 with an A.B. in philosophy. He was particularly interested, during his college career, in the study of logic and political theory. He also edited the student newspaper, the Valley View, and was active in student politics in support of such causes as the abolition of college housing regulations. In 1966, he became chairman of a regional chapter of the conservative Young Americans for Freedom, staged a libertarian revolt, and took his chapter out of YAF. He founded a tiny student organization (two members), the Agorian Society, and in 1967 briefly published a small, nationally circulated libertarian journal, Eleutherian Forum. The agora was the marketplace in ancient Athens; Zeus Eleutherius was the god of freedom.

While still inĀ·college, Bill began buying and selling precious metals. After graduation, he lived in a house trailer, saved money, invested it, and established his own coin business, with a store in East Lansing, Mich. His firm set an industry standard of expertise and honesty. His newsletter, “Analysis and Outlook,” provided an intellectual’s view of the precious metals market, past, present; and future.

In 1970, Bill met the woman who would become his wife, Kathleen Armington, a native of Iowa and a graduate of the University of Iowa. For Bill, she was always “my best friend,” his partner in’ all activities. In 1974, Bill and Kathy bought their first house, a comfortable old farm building in Okemos, a few miles from their coin store in East Lansing; but they soon tired of running a store and decided to seek a more’interesting place to live. Acting in a typically libertarian manner, they did their own research on climate, population, housing, transportation, and other aspects of the environment and discovered that Port Townsend, Wash., was the best place for them. They packed their belongings and drove cross country with no place to live, but soon they found an old house on a hill above Port Townsend’s picturesque harbor. They moved there in 1980.

Bill had long wanted to publish a “real” libertarian magazine. After careful planning, Liberty began publication with the August 1987 issue. At first, Liberty’s work was done in a couple of rooms on the second floor of Bill and Kathy’s house. Then, in 1997, they purchased the west half of a tall Victorian building on Water Street, downtown, and moved Liberty HQ there. Often the only lights that shone on Port Townsend’s main street during the early morning hours were those of Bill’s office, high in the Pioneer Building, where he was editing articles and conferring by phone with contributors and fellow-editors.

Whether by phone or by email or in person, Bill maintained contacts with libertarians throughout the country. He and Kathy enjoyed trips to Hawaii and motorcycle tours of the most challenging routes in outback America, but his daily life was devoted to Liberty. Often existing on, only four or five hours’ of sleep, seldom’leaving his home or’ office, he worried each issue through to publication. He commissioned articles by almost every prominent advocate of ‘classical’ liberalism, and’he discovered countless new writers whom he helped’ become prominent. His own’ articles in Liberty and other journals were notable for’ their deep background in his- tory, their acute analysis of economic and electoral statistics, and their vivid and detailed reporting on’ the’ libertarian movement.

Bill had edited and published his magazine for over 17 years – a remarkable accomplishment for a journalist in any field – when, in late 2004, he began to be troubled by the symptoms of a mysterious illness. The crisis came in early April 2005, when he collapsed in intense pain and was rushed by helicopter to a Seattle hospital. An emergency operation revealed that one of his kidneys had been destroyed by a malignant tumor; subsequent tests showed that the malignancy had spread.

Back home in Port Townsend, Bill fought cancer and doggedly continued editing Liberty. He looked forward with hope, but also with the practical realization that most people in his situation had less than a year to live. He was often in pain and almost always in great discomfort. He kept working.

Then, in early December, he was informed by his doctors that he had only a short time to live. He told a few close friends, made arrangements for the perpetuation of his journal, and died, very quietly, on the evening of December 8.

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