Years ago, I had the amazing experience of greeting a large audience at historic Thalian Hall in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina and introducing the main speaker for An Evening with Pat Conroy, the first of many events held that year to celebrate 100 years of story telling in the libraries of our county. I had the even more unusual opportunity of spending time with the author, just the two of us, for about an hour backstage before the festivities began, where we could talk freely.
He just wanted to talk about me and my time at Notre Dame. And of course, I only wanted to talk about him and his writing. If my wife had been there, we'd probably have spent all our time talking about her. But that's just the kind of man he was—gracious, kind, humble, and friendly.
Born and raised and educated in the south, Pat Conroy was a man who paid attention growing up and stocked his mind and heart with the stories of this distinctive region that he shared with the world for many years. He wrote his first book while he was still in school, and then followed up with a string of best sellers that continued for quite a run. I've read a bunch.
The Water is Wide is an extraordinary account of a heroic year of teaching on a small island off the coast of South Carolina, and the basis for two great movies.
The Great Santini is about growing up in the home of a fighter pilot, and having to fight for a small measure of independence and dignity in the midst of violence, prejudice, outrageous demands, and some surprising sides of love.
The Lords of Discipline gives us the experience of a southern military school and encompasses hazing, torture, friendship, self-mastery, hope, betrayal, and honor.
The Prince of Tides reveals one family’s struggles with tragedy and madness, much of it in the midst of great beauty, along with one man’s attempt at making sense of it all.
Beach Music helps us feel the gravitational force of family and how hard it is to achieve escape velocity from place and blood, no matter what you do.
My Losing Season is a book where basketball meets the rest of life.
And, yes, I've even looked through the work that many people with culinary talents I don’t have tell me is one of the more compelling cookbooks of our time and place here in the south.
Pat Conroy’s themes were as universal as his sense of place was particular: The experience ofadversity, the power of friendship, the complex cauldron of family in which we’re all formed, the lure of the low country with its rich display of the wonders of nature, here at the edge of America. You can experience shock and trauma on one page, and find yourself laughing out loud in the very next chapter.
Some of the best reading times I’ve ever had have been in Pat Conroy’s books. Probably like many of you, I’ve read them even when I really should have been doing other things around the house. I’ve relished every one, and I’ve even taken notes. Pat was a good philosopher, an astute diagnostician of human nature. But, most of all, he was a master of stories.
You’ve likely read his books, you’ve probably seen and enjoyed the movies based on those books, maybe you’ve even cooked his recipes. With his passing, we all have the opportunity now to reflect with gratitude on his life and body of work. He was a southern original, a prince of his craft and a man I wish I could have gotten to know better. He will be missed.