Shortly before his death, William (R. W.) Bradford sent an e-mail to friends, suggesting a headline for his obituary: Bradford dies! Liberty survives! Liberty is...

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Shortly before his death, William (R.W.) Bradford sent an e-mail to friends, suggesting a headline for his obituary: Bradford dies! Liberty survives!

Liberty is the magazine Mr. Bradford founded in 1987 to explore libertarianism, the political philosophy that favors small government and cherishes individual freedom above all.

“To be a libertarian is to believe that human liberty is the paramount goal of government,” he wrote in the May 2001 issue.

But while he held strong positions, Mr. Bradford opened his magazine to views across the political spectrum. That’s what made Liberty one of the most influential publications of the libertarian movement, said longtime friend Ross Overbeek.

The two met in high school while working on Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign.

“Bill really cared about the truth,” said Overbeek, a Chicago-area geneticist. “He read voraciously … and actively solicited diverse opinions.”

Mr. Bradford succumbed to kidney cancer Thursday (Dec. 8) at his Port Townsend home. He was 58.

His wife, Kathleen, recalled his first publication: an eight-page mimeographed tract that he turned out for eight weeks at the age of 18. Mr. Bradford also edited the student newspaper at Grand Valley State University, an experimental college in Allendale, Mich., where he was one of the few conservatives on a largely liberal campus in the mid-1960s.

Stephen Cox was a long-haired left-winger who submitted a letter to the editor opposing the Vietnam War. Mr. Bradford agreed, and the two became lifelong friends.

“I gradually began to share his libertarian views,” said Cox, now editor-in-chief of Liberty and a professor of literature at the University of California, San Diego.

The Bradfords, both Michigan natives, moved to Port Townsend in 1980 partly because Washington has no income tax — which libertarians generally oppose — and partly to escape bitter winters and sweltering summers.

They published Liberty out of their home for more than 10 years, until the operation got too unwieldy. The monthly magazine has about 7,000 subscribers and also is sold at large newsstands, including at Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Mr. Bradford wrote occasional op-ed columns for The Seattle Times. His most recent, during the presidential campaign, took John Kerry and Democrats to task for backing the Iraq war, which he strongly opposed.

He irritated some of his magazine’s readers by publishing articles from proponents of the war. He also drew the ire of fellow libertarians for his criticism of the Libertarian Party and of political campaigns he thought were mismanaged.

“A lot of fairly famous libertarians were extremely angry with him, because he wouldn’t adhere to a party line,” Overbeek said.

In his personal life, Mr. Bradford didn’t make extreme, anti-government gestures, like refusing to pay income tax. But he did boycott a Port Townsend movie theater that had been refurbished with federal funds.

An avid Detroit Tigers fan, Mr. Bradford also loved to explore the West by car and motorcycle.

On one trip, the Bradfords traveled the length of Interstate 15, from the Canadian border in Montana to the Mexican border in California.

“He had a map with every road he’d ever ridden on,” his wife said.

He was particularly drawn to the deserts of Nevada and California and the people who seek solitary — and unregulated — lives there. Mr. Bradford was too fond of conversation, debate and human society ever to consider such a life for himself, Cox said. But in one of his last Liberty articles, he mused about the fantasy many libertarians share of living as a hermit, beyond the reach of government.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Bradford is survived by sister Tacy Tolosa, of Kaunas, Lithuania; brother James of Bryan, Texas; and sister Barbara Bradford, of Port Townsend.

No services are planned.

As Mr. Bradford predicted, Liberty will continue to be published. Portions of the magazine can be read online at www.libertyunbound.com/

Sandi Doughton: 206-464-2491 or sdoughton@seattletimes.com