Remembering an irreplaceable friend

My Desk

 

Among the worst things about growing old is the loss of those irreplaceable friends who added richness and depth to your life. I met Tim Belk in Beaufort in 1967, the first year I taught and coached at Beaufort High School. We were the only guests at a dinner that the only writer in Beaufort, Ann Head, had put together so we could meet and form what she was certain would become a serious “literary” friendship. Ann had taught me creative writing my senior year in high school and had written me a series of generous-spirited letters about the sad-sack poems I wrote for the literary magazine at The Citadel. Ann Head and my father hated each other on sight and she worried that my college was the worst possible breeding ground for a young man who wished to be a novelist. Ann’s articulate response to the shaping of my writing life by my father and the Citadel was my introduction to Tim Belk. With this, Ann Head made my life delicious and presented me with a friend who would prove a treasury of constant delight. Tim Belk became a dreamboat of a friend and the news of his death in San Francisco this October killed something of measureless value inside of me and all of his friends.

Tim Belk had received his Masters degree in English from the University of South Carolina and come to live on Port Republic Street and teach at USCB. He became famous as a gifted and hard-nosed teacher of the language, a stickler for grammar who considered a dangling participle a minor crime against humanity. He was passionate about literature, music, and all the arts and he was the kind of southerner I only encountered in literature. He seemed to drift out of the pages of Carson McCullers and would have looked natural with a walk-on part in a Tennessee Williams play. It was true. I had met no one remotely like him at the Citadel. At that first meeting, Tim Belk and I had no idea he would one day have leading roles in the novels I would write. He would make his original appearance as himself playing the piano for my Daufuskie students in The Water is Wide. In The Lords of Discipline, he took the stage as Tradd St. Croix, a Charleston aristocrat who was part of a quartet of roommates bound by the infinite resources of their deep affection for each other. When South of Broad came out, I granted Tim one of the most pivotal roles in the book as Trevor Poe, a gay piano player in San Francisco. Note that gayness has become a theme here.

I consider the two years in Beaufort when I taught high school as perhaps the happiest time of my life. My attraction to melodrama and suffering had not yet overwhelmed me, but signs of it were surfacing. No one had warned me that a teacher could fall so completely in love with his students that graduation seemed like the death of a small civilization. It was that same year that I became best friends with Bernie Schein, Mikes Jones, George Garbade and the inimitable Tim Belk.

Tim seemed sophisticated and worldly in a way that made me feel as uncultured as a listless pearl. I would sit on his porch after teaching and he would fix me a martini in a real martini glass. He served wine that was not Ripple or Blue Nun. He served canapés that I thought were coverings for boats and had no idea were wonderful pre-dinner snacks to be served on good china with cloth napkins. In those two years, Tim would introduce me to The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, the short stories of Flannery O’Connor, the novels of Walker Percy, the poetry of James Dickey and all the great classical music of the Western canon. He played the piano with an almost supernatural ease and he never forgot a song or piece of music he’d heard. He was one of the most civilized men I’ve ever known and one of the funniest. Our friendship lasted almost fifty years and much of it was spent laughing.

The world was afire in the late sixties. The Tet offensive and the murder of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy occurred in 1968 and integration was still in its experimental stages at Beaufort High. It seemed to me I was living ten lifetimes that single year and it was an exhilarating year to be curious and alive. That Tim Belk was gay was whispered about and talked about openly, intimated by some and taken for granted by others. Though my children don’t believe me now and find it hilarious, I didn’t know what being gay was. Though I had heard all the disparaging names from queer to faggot, no one had ever told me that they actually were gay. At the Citadel, if you were caught in a homosexual embrace, you were beaten to a pulp and expelled from school that day. It was part of the school’s harsh military code and there was no recourse to law. A gay southerner was an abomination of the species; it was a verminous condition that could not be brought up in polite circles.

₪₪

Tim Belk was closeted himself in those early Beaufort days and dated some of the loveliest women in this town. I double-dated with him on many occasions. Later, he married a beautiful teacher from the Academy once he’d packed his bags and lit out for his new life in San Francisco. Tim left several months before I was fired from my teaching job on Daufuskie Island, the year I learned that the “separate but equal” system of the American South was the biggest lie ever told by the part of the world I love the most. I lost teaching, I lost Beaufort, and I lost Time Belk at the same time.

Before the dissolution of his marriage to Diane (“We divorced because of irreconcilable similarities”), the Ford Foundation rescued me, sending my family and me out to San Francisco. Tim got a job playing the piano at The Curtain Call in the theater district. My wife Barbara and Diane would go out on the town once a week, to dinner and the theater. Tim and I went out every Thursday night and that is where he introduced me to his new life that he found glorious and far from shameful. One night after a show, Marlene Dietrich and Elaine Stritch came into The Curtain Call and Tim heard Elaine ask the legendary Marlene if she would sing her World War II anthem “Lili Marlene.” Instantly, Tim began playing the haunting theme and heard Marlene say to Elaine Stritch, “It is the wrong key.” In the next movement of his fingers he had changed to her key and Marlene said, “The boy can play.”

With Tim Belk’s elegant accompaniment, Marlene Dietrich sang the song beloved by both Nazi and American soldiers on both sides of the trenches and brought a screaming crowd roaring to its feet. Later, Tim and I would go bar hopping through the city as we always did. The bars of San Francisco had a hundred faces and some were ornate and mysterious, others bizarre, but all welcoming when Tim and I were young and our dream of what the world could be still fresh and quivering with life. At one bar, soon after the Lili Marlene night, Tim and I were arguing the merits of some new novel, when a fan of his from The Curtain Call tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance. This was not part of my own dream of the world. But it made me study my surroundings with greater awareness. I had often been in bars with only men when I was a cadet and I had noticed that people were dancing to a band in a room separate from the bar. Before this definitive moment, I had not noticed that they were all men dancing with each other. Tim looked horrified but I’d become friendly with the man who asked me to dance and was raised by a mother who taught her kids never to hurt anyone’s feelings. I said I’d be glad to and I followed the young man to the dance floor. He was from South Carolina, Greer I believe, and I said, “You want to teach these boy to shag?”

“Delighted,” he said.

“Mind if I lead?” I asked, and he said he’d love it if I did.

We shagged and the kid had great moves. After the dance, I thanked, my partner and returned to the bar and sat beside Tim.

“You got something to tell me, pal?” I said.

That night, we stayed up talking ‘til dawn and Tim told me his real life story, the one that gay southern men were not allowed to tell back then. He told me he had realized he was gay as a small boy growing up in Fort Mill, SC and how the knowledge filled him with terror and self-loathing. He described the soul-killing loneliness it entailed, the nightmare of not only being different, but being something despised, vermin-like, a monstrous creation cut off from both society and God.

When The Lords of Discipline was published in 1980, I came through San Francisco on a book tour and spent the weekend in Tim’s mid-level flat in a classic Victorian home on Union Street. More than any place I’ve ever been, Tim’s home shimmered with romance and good taste. It looked like a space where great poetry would seize hold of you and shake the language out of you. When we awoke, Tim and I would drink coffee and eat croissants in a hidden away garden lush with rosebushes and green, climbing vines. We would talk about Beaufort – always Beaufort – then we would walk down and have lunch at the Washington Square Bar and Grill where I learned about the taste of Dungeness crab and Petrale sole and met some of the grand characters who composed the Bohemian life of North Beach.

It was on that trip that I made a huge meal for fifteen of Tim’s gay friends and I started cooking at five and the party didn’t break up until two in the morning. Nothing has ever made me laugh as much as gay humor in its perversity, punning, repartee and response, and yes, its pure and delightful wickedness. Many of these guys told stories about their childhoods in small towns across America that were heartbreaking and screamingly funny in the retelling. It was like hearing the tales of a leper colony for boys marked forever by the shame of being born the way they were supposed to be. Fifteen years later, Tim showed me a photograph of all of us attending that party and everyone, except Tim and me, had died of AIDS. Tim was dying of it when he showed me the snapshot.

I was living with my family in Italy when I read a report in the International Herald Tribune about a mysterious disease that was killing gay men in San Francisco and New York. I ran to the telephone and dialed Tim Belk’s number in San Francisco. When he answered in his refined, cultured Southern accent, I said, “Tim, whatever you are doing in your unspeakable gay life, I want you stop this minute. No more hanky-panky for you, son.”

“So you’ve heard rumors of the plague as far away as Rome,” Tim answered. “Don’t you worry. You’re talking to Sister Timothy Immaculata at this very moment. I’m in the midst of a life of purity, chastity, and good works. I attract wolf whistles from the cutest boys wherever I go to the Castro district wearing my nun’s habit. But I keep tripping over these damn rosary beads.”

“No jokes, Tim,” I said. “This scares the living hell out of me.”

“It scares you?” Tim said. “I’m so scared by this, I’m thinking of going back to the dark side. I’m thinking about dating women again.”

“I’m not suggesting anything that drastic or repulsive to your deviant nature,” I said.

“Pat, you know I’ve always thought you were gay,” Tim teased.

“You told me I wasn’t good looking enough to be gay,” I said.

Tim said, “Sadly, you’re right. I think your dilemma’s incurable.”

As we were speaking that day Tim had already contracted the virus and the whole nature of our friendship was about to change. Because of the AIDS epidemic, I know of few American families who were not affected either indirectly or profoundly by the spread of the virus. It tore through the San Francisco area like some biblical plague that rolled across the city with that unearthly fog that stole up the Bay each afternoon. Only two of Tim Belk’s large circle of gay friends did not die from the disease. It cast a hangman’s pall over the entire city and caused unbearable grief in the households that had raised those boys across the American landscape. Over and over again I encountered friends of Tim whose families had renounced them forever when they found out their sons or daughters were homosexuals. These announcements not only infuriated these parents, but repulsed them to such a degree their sons and daughters arrived in San Francisco abandoned, without any bonds of family to support them. As a result, the gay men I met succeeded in forming themselves into an articulate tribe that was both rowdy and indivisible. San Francisco had freed them to be what they were born to be; AIDS made them political and the whole nation changed in its wake.

Tim Belk’s flat on Union Street turned into a visitor’s center for all of Tim’s South Carolina friends. A generous host, he entertained a traveling circus of his Beaufort friends and over a hundred of us stayed in his light-filled guest room on an alley that dipped down into the heart of North Beach. He gave a tour of the city that lasted for hours as he drove his car from Potrero Heights through Haight Ashbury, to the mansions of Pacific Heights, the carnival-like atmosphere of the Castro, to the alleyways of Nob Hill. People would stay a week at a time and sometimes longer. With the city laid out like a white chessboard below him and the blue gleaming Bay in the distance with its regattas, and ship traffic at the Marin Headlands in the distance, he would declare in a prayer-like voice that San Francisco was the most beautiful city in the world. Then, in a tribute to all of our shared past, he would admit that Beaufort was just as lovely in its own lush, indefinable way. Each year he returned to Beaufort and brought great joy with his visits, parties galore, and his singular gift for finding magic in every piano that came his way.

After he was diagnosed as HIV positive, Tim and I used to talk at least once a week. As always, we talked literature, politics and music and he would tell me about the famous clubs and restaurants he had played in, from the top of the Mark Hopkins to Ernie’s and notable gay bars the length and breadth of the city. He also became famous for playing at parties for high society in San Francisco and over the years brought his skills into the peerless mansions of the Gettys and the Aliotos and would always draw a crowd with his compendious knowledge of song and the virtuosity he brought to requests for Chopin, Schubert, and Mozart. All this was done as Tim sat there in his tuxedo with his bourbon and lit cigarette and he kept up a charming line of social patter that had the entire room singing with him at the end of the evening. He made the whole American South look good in every room he entered and his southernness and handsomeness were all part of the package.

In 1988, Tim visited me in Atlanta and I saw for the first time the price that AIDS had begun to exert on his body. He came to my house having lost over twenty pounds since I’d last seen him and with his face covered with sores I’d once seen on several of his friends.

“My God, Tim,” I gasped. “What’s wrong?”

“Come hug the Elephant Man,” he said and I did.

“Don’t worry, they can cure this. But soon, I’ll come down with something they can’t cure,” he said. “I think all this happened because I made out with some trashy girl in high school.”

“You wish,” I said.

The next year, my wife Lenore and I bought a house on Presidio Drive in San Francisco. Tim had not seemed afraid of dying, but very afraid of how he would die. His family was small and he feared being crippled or demented or incontinent. I heard it as a fear of dying alone. So my family and I moved to San Francisco and I moved there with the purpose of helping Tim Belk die. In the four years I lived in his city, Tim and I became best friends as the relentlessness of his disease began to exert its undermining power over him.

Each day we spoke by telephone and several times a week I would visit him on Union Street. On Sundays, we always had lunch at the Washington Square Bar and Grill and we sat at a place of honor by the window so we could observe the human traffic spilling into the park with its kites and Frisbee catching dogs. A community developed around us and Leslie was our sharp-tongued waitress and Michael poured our Bloody Marys and a whole civilization came and went as we sat and talked about the state of the world as fifty Sundays went by and Tim lost more weight. The movie version of The Prince of Tides came out in 1991 and I escorted Tim to every party I could and he was paid good money to play at several of them. He enjoyed the hoopla of the event far more than I did, but I’d fallen in love with movies when Tim Belk hosted a movie series at The Breeze theater back in Beaufort. At the premiere, Tim sat beside me and murmured with pleasure at the sumptuous music that opened the movie and the stunning shots of the town where we had first met twenty-five years before.

Soon after that premiere, one of Tim’s friends dropped by when we were having lunch and said, “There’s a gay kid from South Carolina who’s dying of AIDS. His family won’t have anything to do with him and his friends don’t know where he is. They’re frantic to find him.”

“Hey Tim,” I said, after his friend left, “I’ll be damned if I’m gonna let some kid from South Carolina die of AIDS alone.”

“I’ve been thinking the same thing,” Tim answered. “Let’s find him.”

So Tim Belk and I began to search a part of San Francisco we knew nothing about. I described this in South of Broad, when a gay man named Trevor Poe disappears from sight in San Francisco and straight friends go looking for him to bring him back to Charleston. Trevor Poe, of course, was the fictional counterpart of Tim Belk. Tim and I delivered lunch and dinner to dying men who were staying at last-stand hotels in the Tenderloin, a god-awful place on few tourist maps. We would bring meals to men who would be dead within the week or month. We made phone calls to their families, gave them money, bought them groceries. I always asked them if they had met any young man from South Carolina. After weeks of searching, we found the man in a hospital less than four blocks from my house. His name was Jay Truluck and he was from the town of Turbeville, South Carolina.

Tim and I found him in a garden, sitting in a wheel chair, completely blind. He was twenty years old.

“It could be worse, Jay,” I said. “You could be in Turbeville, South Carolina.”

Jay Truluck almost fell out of his wheelchair laughing.

“I’m from Fort Mill,” Tim said. “It couldn’t be that small.”

“Trust me,” Jay said. “It is.”

So we became good friends with Jay Truluck and his suite mate, Jimmy Love, and Jimmy’s exquisite mother and the golden-limbed Charlie Gallie who was taking great care of both young men and dozens of other stricken patients around the city. Charlie became one of our best friends from that day onward. Those years were terrible, but a strange aura of charity and goodness came together during that time of epidemic. All of us were having dinner at my house on Presidio when Mrs. Love received a phone call that both Jimmy and Jay had died just minutes apart. Tim and I met Jay Truluck’s mother and sister at the airport and drove them to the funeral home for the final viewing.

In a country southern accent, Mrs. Truluck said to me as I led her by the arm up to her son’s casket, “Wasn’t my Jay a beautiful boy?”

“Brace yourself, Mrs. Truluck,” I warned. “He’s not beautiful anymore.”

When she saw her son’s AIDS ravaged face, she collapsed into my arms. Tim and I left her and Jay’s devastated sister weeping openly over his casket as we retreated to the rear of the chapel.

Tim was furious and said, “I’d like to slap the hell out of both of them. They should’ve been here with Jay.”

“Tim, they’re southern just like you and me. They were just being true to how they were raised. Surely, we can understand that,” I said.

“I hate when you go all sentimental and Christian on me,” Tim said. “That’s exactly what’s wrong with your writing.”

Tim never liked anything I wrote. As an English teacher, he insisted the prose be spare, unadorned, unflashy, but hard-hitting and severe. From the beginning of my career in Beaufort, Tim found my writing over-caffeinated, pretentious, and blowsy.

“Have you never heard of the eloquence of simplicity, Pat?” Tim Belk would say.

I would answer, “I’m after something else, Belk. The elegance of grotesque overwriting and egregious excess.”

“But you’re making me a character in all your overblown novels,” Tim said. “I’m a man of Shakespearean depth, but I get a hack like you to tell my story.”

“Therein lies your tragedy, Belk,” I would say.

“You’d be a much better writer had you only been born gay,” Tim said.

“Therein lies my tragedy.” We could always make each other laugh.

In 1996, Tim began to die in earnest. On my book tour for Beach Music we met at the Washington Square Bar and Grill and openly discussed his death for the first time. He now weighed less than a hundred pounds and had assumed that haunted, skeletal look of all AIDS patients at the very end. He held my hand as we talked and his grip was shaky. A resignation to the inevitable had entered his voice when I had an idea.

“Let’s go on a final trip, Tim. It’s on me and we’ll go first class all the way. Doubleday is sending me to England and Ireland soon and we can have one last legendary good time together.”

“My bags are packed,” Tim Belk said and that next spring over the Atlantic Tim and I toasted our years of friendship with a bottle of champagne. By then we had taken many trips together and found ourselves companionable in travel. Now, we promised to have the time of our lives and make this trip famous among all our friends. When we got off in Heathrow, there was an announcement on the loudspeaker for Tim to report to the Delta message center. Tim’s doctor from San Francisco ordered Tim to report to a London hospital and Tim became one of the first human beings on earth to be put on the “cocktail,” the intricate series of drugs that stopped the epidemic in its tracks. To us, that trip took on mythic proportion. We had our finest time together as friends on this earth. Tim always referred to it as the trip that saved his life.

Tim Belk did not die of AIDS. On October 21, 2014, I received the news of Tim Belk’s death when I was speaking at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville. He had gone into toxic shock after a kidney infection and died in the hospital. His friends mourned him all over the world. But our tears mingled with bursts of laughter and an affection that was borderless and somehow sublime. He changed my whole life and the way I saw the whole world. I was lucky to know him, to love him, and to be transformed by his love of me. I did not cry until I spoke with Laura and Matthew Ringard, the friends he had met through me only three years before. They were devastated and through their loss I felt myself collapse. As I rode through the bomb plant between Aiken and Allendale, I fell apart.

His light has gone out, but the music plays on.

103 Responses to Remembering an irreplaceable friend

  • Joanne Simmons Smith says:

    Always enjoy Conroy ‘ s writing. Would have liked to have known his friend. My mother taught Ann Head’s daughter at Beaufort Elementary on Carteret St.

  • Jay Kremer says:

    That’s a beautiful remembrance, Pat. I feel lucky to have gotten to know your friend through your writings. I hope you write the story of the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco someday. It’s a story that people need your interpretation to understand.

    Thanks
    -J

  • jackie driggers says:

    Thank you that’s all I have le just thank you!!

  • Charles Massler says:

    Thank you for repeatedly sharing your life with those you do not know. We care.

  • josie zurav says:

    Even your writing of something so sad is beautiful. I am so sorry about the loss of your friend. When I saw you at The Fearrington House in Pittsboro, NC with cousins of Dan Mohr you said you wouldn’t write any more books—-say it ” ain’t so”!! I wouldn’t know what to do if I couldn’t look forward to you next wonderful story!
    Tim sounds like a wonderful, talented person and I know you will miss him terribly. Sounds like you were a fabulous and supportive friend.

  • Kathy Bouman says:

    As usual, your writing has brought me to tears. We all should be so blessed to have a friendship as true as was yours and Tim Belk’s. I am so sorry for your loss.

  • Landon Smith says:

    Hello Mr. Conroy,

    I’m truly sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing memories of your good friend. I enjoy reading the characters inspired by him in your books. I truly enjoy the honesty and humanity of your writing.

    Kind Regards,
    Landon Smith

  • Roey Gangloff says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your friend. Everyone should have a friend like you.

  • donna cox says:

    Thank God, for people like you Pat,God will richly bless you for your kindness, . I loved SOUTH OF BROAD , . It depressed me, . It was dark , , but it was an awesome story. I have tried reading your last book,/ but I never get very far without crying, . I too was abused in childhood, xoxo

  • Connie Pavlasek says:

    A wonderful tribute to your friend. I wish I had known him.

  • Scott Kinsey says:

    “and much of it was spent laughing”. What better?

    Thank you.

  • Scott Kinsey says:

    “and much of it was spent laughing”. What better?

    Thank you.

  • Bill White says:

    i had a great aunt that met you at Tim’s brother funeral in FM. At 100 she still spoke of your loyalty and friendship. I am Class of 88 and have several gay friends from Charleston. Thank you for being you and respecting a fellow Fort Millian.

  • Michele Warnke says:

    Your tribute is outstanding. Contrary to your beloved friend, who would hate any sentence I write, I love your words.Just bought 2 copies of Beach Music to give friends. As an RN who was a new nurse when AIDS reared its ugly head, reading this tribute really moved me. You and Tim were blessed to have each other.

  • Monyca Reed says:

    I’m very sorry for your loss

  • Rachel Kalet says:

    We need to hear more… My husband wants to speak with me, but I told him I was reading. For once in my life, I didn’t have to put your book down… I mean BLOG, because of all the F**? Language. Brass Tacks Talks. Let’s all write with more Truth. It is that simple, however, we all like to be oursleves. You can call her Trisha now that Tim has passed. But what I can appreciate is the piano playing, parties, best friends or besties, not Beastie Boys. Well, I had to in fact ask my husband or U gay? Of course, I knew better, buy someone was running interference into the relationship so I ask!

    Why not? I mean what happens when an employer hires your next best friend at the same time. We car pool together realizing we are from the same tribe. Oh, we having too much fun? We step in… She is better at Social Work than me and I just enjoy a party? I mean what does LOVE have to do with hiring a newbie and letting her go? We all are trying to get our P’s and Q’s in order, take orders, and get the BS done.

    What does Courage have got to do with life. When a teacher asks you to define Courage, the student writes, This is Courage. She got an A plus, but flunked out and had to retake all of her art work courses during that summer.

    Really we drove to Middle Eastern restaurants as we planned for our 5 month study during 1991 and enjoyed this parade. She visits Fripp Island and gets so pissed at me for workinb slightly beyond my shift, 5:15pm?

    Just don’t Fripp Out, Audrey. She has always been there and always will be. Just don’t wait to tell me you are dying when you are dying!!!

    Rock On, Pat! God Bless You!

  • Charlotte says:

    This is the best tribute I have ever read! I was not fortunate enough to meet Tim Belk; however, I now feel that I could make a heartfelt toast in his honor. Tim may have teased you about your writing, but I’m sure he would agree that this may be one of your best pieces yet. I am thankful you and Tim were friends.

  • Vickie says:

    So sorry for the loss of your best friend. Prayers for you and yours.

  • Kim Williamson says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this beautiful remembrance.

  • Kristy wood says:

    A beautiful tribute to a friend. You were each fortunate to have one another. The only time I have ever spoke with you was when we sat beside each other at the funeral of another friend Chris McTeer. Hope you find comfort in the memories.

  • What a loving tribute to a beloved friend. You were both blessed to have a life intertwined…and doubly blessed that you knew it for what it was. That kind of relationship is as rare as a diamond. My sympathy at your profound loss.

  • Allan Campbell says:

    I have always been a fan, but now I am a dedicated fan. Such a wonderful story and Tim is lucky to have a friend like you. Andrew Pine said: ‘What you do for yourself dies with you, what you do for others lives forever”. Thank You.

  • Martha Van Cise says:

    What a lovely tribute to your dear friend. The two great tragedies of our generation are AIDS and the Vietnam War, for they took the lives of so many of our young men.

  • Marvin Mann says:

    Pure Conroy! Pat you’re the rare writer who can make even an obituary seem like a classic piece of writing. The true meaning and depth of being a friend of Pat is revealed in this tribute and shows the world how fortunate both of you were.

  • Donna Oliver says:

    I live in the Fauborgh Marigny just a couple of blocks from the French Quarter. I want to thank you for loaning me Tim over the years. As a straight, Southern born citizen of the world, I’ve always been drawn to these magnificent human beings. They’ve appreciated my wicked sense of adventure and sharp tongue. But, I also have a nurturing side and saw the emptiness in the eyes of the parentless boy/ men. Perhaps we saw it in each other. My heart goes out to you and all of his friends because the world becomes a darker place when those lights are extinguished.

  • Sandy Traub says:

    God bless you for your big heart, and your eagerness to be a treasured friend and nurture a treasured friendship. You have unbelievable capacity to feel heartwarmingly, deeply and command your language of generosity sufficient to shepherd your swelling flock through your life, imagination, and easy way with words. God bless you, God bless Tim on his route onward, and God bless those who mourn and celebrate with rich, vivid memories. Long distance friendships endure, don’t they?! Won’t Tim’s cloud be like his always welcoming home? I can only imagine. Thank you for sharing your tender thoughts.

  • Jennifer Reynolds says:

    I am sorry for the loss of such a great friend, a man who seems to have been a dancing light to others, a talent, a true southern gentleman. The world survives on the light and energy of someone like Tim Belk, may he rest in peace, and may your memories of your sweet friend give you peace.

  • Dave Jakes says:

    Thank you for your tribute to Tim. I remember Tradd when I first read Lords of Discipline at 12 years old, trying to learn and understand what shaped my father at the Citadel in the 1960′s. I think Tradd’s character embodied a lot of how I felt, as someone who was different, struggling with his sexuality while trying to be a good son. I am so pleased that you chose to share your friendship and experiences with Tim in your blog, it has really helped me understand your writing all the more.

  • Sandy johnson says:

    Pat, you fullness of life always amazes me. I had the honor of talking with you one night in Columbia. Tim was a man who lived his life fully. You were Blessed. To come to our age and be able to look back with humor, love and a smile means we did well. I hope as i continue in my journey, i too will continue to be me. My life has changed due to illness. But i continue as my Mother would say dignity. Thank God we were born in the South. So we always have humor. Thank you for sharing your friend.
    Sandy

  • Don Lafferty says:

    Big hug.

  • Joani pierce says:

    That was just about perfect. Thanks Pat.

  • Gayle Taylor Davis says:

    The best friends are those who can make you laugh and cry as you face this crazy world together, and it seems you did this for each other. I believe you created the Shakespearean depth he claimed in your various incarnations of him in your works, and then presented him to us in the blowsy, over-caffeinated manner that we love in Southern characters. There’s something wonderful about Southern men, and I can claim this after being married to a North Carolina man for 32 years. I believe it is that they never lose the “boy” inside them. Thank you for sharing your friend with us. You made me love him in the same way I loved him in your stories. I love his humanity..

  • Julie says:

    Beautiful tribute! I hope to contribute at least a fraction of his lessons in life to someone!

  • Kim Hardin says:

    As always, when you write about a friend (real or fictional) I feel like I know them. When I read one of you books (and I have read them all) I close the book with the thought that I hate to see them go and I’m going to miss them. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world. We’re ready for another book, Mr. Conroy. Please sir, may we have another?

  • Dennis Adams says:

    Tim was my sophomore English teacher at USCB. His enthusiasm for Whitman colors my own today. A teacher who invited students over to his house to listen to Brahms …. who could forget such an influence?

  • Loretta says:

    Thank you for sharing this tribute to your old friend–written, like all your stories, with grace, heart and vivid characterization. I also treasure this glimpse into the life of Ann Head, a writer I have long admired and about whom so little information is available. I have read all her novels (almost as often as yours) and magazine stories, and feel doubly affectionate toward her because of her role in nurturing your writing.

  • G.B. Lane says:

    Mr. Conroy, I have read all your books and always marvel how you can make me aware of my southern proclivities–born in Georgia, reared in Texas, married a Louisiana girl, lived nearly 40 years in SC–retired from USC in Columbia as a professor emeritus in 2002. The Low Country contains several of my favorite watering holes and you may know 2 of my dearest friends, Fran and Dennis Nolan. One of my family’s most cherished experiences was a winter vacation on the beaches around Beaufort. The trip had been requested by my late wife, who was in the final stages of Parkinson’s Disease. She and I both loved the Low Country beaches, especially in the winter. As I said earlier, I love your writing and having experienced the tragic lives and deaths of several gay friends and students, I especially appreciated this story. Perhaps your friend, Tim, might consider it egregious, but like all your stories, it touched my heart. My own child is gay (a girl) and recently was able to marry her partner in New York. I look forward to reading your next book. GBL

  • Dan Garringer says:

    Pat, I both love and admire your writing. As a coach of the sport of basketball, a survivor of a dysfunctional childhood, and a lover if the written word, how could I not be a fan? Your eloquent remember acne of your friend only adds to my respect. I am on the brink of my forty- fourth season as a coach and hope for the young people with whom I work still makes me inspired as does your deeply moving vision of overcoming the trials we face.

  • Laura Ingram-Smith says:

    Pat, What a wonderful tribute to a longtime friend. I would say that you are a great story teller, but I am going to say that you tell a wonderful and heart felt story. I too have gone and taken loving care of friends and family who were dying. I can only hope that I helped them. I know that I felt better for being with and helping them.

    I was born and raised in Ridgeland, SC. Moved to Charleston, SC in August of 1966. Took a medical course at MUSC. Dated and married a 1967 Citadel (John T Collins) graduate 4th Battalion Co T. He typed papers for a lot of you guys. He also sold hot dogs after study and just before lights out. I cooked and delivered those hot dogs. The Boo did catch me on campus after a delivery one night. Stop me and had one of his talks. Then let me go. What a great man. No longer married to that guy. But back in SC after living in Florida, North Carolina, and California.

    I have read and enjoyed all of your books.

  • Kathy Jackson says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a friend!

  • Tim McCarthy says:

    Pat,
    So sorry for the loss of your lifelong friend. I can relate. You express it so much more succinctly and clearly than I can. I enjoyed reading this as well as every book you have ever written.
    Tim McCarthy

  • Dear Mr. Conroy,
    Your teaching and writing career have been a huge inspiration in mine. What a beautiful tribute you write here to a man I can now honor as catalyst for so much of your work. You remind us to embrace our friends, and treasure most those who laugh through life with us. San Francisco is a great city for joyful piano bar treks. You make me wish I’d been there.
    My sympathies,
    Elizabeth Robin

  • Wayne Auman says:

    Pat, what a blessing to experience such a deep, abiding, and unconditional love.Your fierce loyalty to Tim, despite his scandalous (by Southern standards) lifestyle, is a paradigm of true friendship. You won the lottery of love, and we are all the richer having shared in Tim’s remarkable life, thanks to your “over-caffeinated, pretentious, and blowsy” prose. lol Pretentious? Hardly. On the contrary, you have the courage to scour the darkest depths of your soul, daring to bring into the light the fragile, terrified vulnerabilities that few even attempt to articulate. (The ever-gaping wounds we all share. An unfortunate side-effect of being human…) Thank you for this intimate glimpse into that cherised relationship. I’m so sorry for your loss, Pat. You have honored Tim magnificently…

  • Margaret Russell says:

    Incredible tribute to your friend…incredible gift to us all to be able to read it.

  • Leslie Baker says:

    Tim was my mother’s best friend from Fort Mill. He came to my wedding and he could tell the most amazing stories about the crazy stuff they did long ago. I moved out to Phoenix and my best friends lived in San Francisco so I had Fridays off. Well every Friday for 2 years I would help to up the hill to eat at his favorite restaurant with all of his friends, then we would go back to his house sit in the back yard full of plants. How did he keep his rent $600/month for all these years. I feel a void in my life with the true southern gentleman gone but he knew how much I loved him so cheers to “Tim” until we meet again.

  • Vickie H. says:

    So beautifully written…..your friendship came alive for me….and I grieve with you now at the loss of Tim and the life you shared together. So much amazing generosity between the two of you…must have been magnificent to behold by all those in your circle of friends. I don’t care if he thought your writing excessive and egregious….I find it so authentic and illuminating….just look at the way you “lit him up” in this loving tribute….what a welcoming heart you have….may God bless and keep you and all the others who will miss him forever….what a treasure, that friendship…..I thank you, kind sir, for sharing your love from the depths of your grief.

  • Kay Hines says:

    You have touched my heart with your wonderful tribute to your best friend. So sorry for your loss.

  • Bill Beltz says:

    Thanks for posting about your friend Tim Belk. Nothing compares to the experience of realizing your own son is gay. I was also brought up in Catholic Schools through college and as you know, am also your neighbor down here in Beaufort. My son Justin was brought up in Beaufort County but went off to USC in LA to be a screenwriter and is now dutifully employed in New York editing films and also hopefully getting more of his books published. I have met you at several book signings and most recently listened to you at the USCB Arts Center where you were introducing Death of Santini which I think is one of your best. Nothing compares to when you talk from the heart as you did in your Cookbook, Death of Santin and when you talk here about your friend. I gathered when reading South of Broad that the gay person was somehow related or a personal friend. It’s impossible to speak of someone that way unless you know them personally. Living in the South and having to deal with the never-ending prejudices that exist here is quite a task but hopefully there is some way we can stick together and eventually make a mark here to change the way people think? There are a lot more of us here than you may be aware of. When I tell others that my son is gay, it’s amazing how many others will open up and also come out not only about themselves but also members of their families.

  • Laura Porter says:

    Thank you for this wonderful tribute to your exceptional friend. You obviously enriched each other’s lives immeasurably. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers as you deal with this tragic loss. I wish I could have met your friend and enjoyed his love for music and the arts. I can see the parallels you mentioned to characters in your novels. He sounded like a true southerner and a graceful man.

  • Sharon O'Neil says:

    Everyone should be graced in this life with a beautiful and fulfilling friendship like the one you shared with you best friend, Tim. However, if we are not so blessed, we do have your lovely words to read and reread…and of course, hope.

  • Pat, Thank you for this wonderful eulogy on the part of your friend Tim. Your prose is something I admire greatly and have for a long time. Your vulnerability to share your relationship with Tim is nothing short of poetic. Back in 1980, I was working for the VAMC Lab Dept. in San Diego. I’d been in the Navy and worked as a peer counselor for CREDO where I met and grew to love a number of gay people, men and women. It was because of them that I wrote a serious communique to the higher-ups in the VAMC that the AIDS virus would come to greet them sooner than expected because of the number of gays in the military. My boss, then head of the Dept., passed that letter up the chain. I believe it impacted the staff as the VAMC in San Diego took a heads-up and managed to help, not ostracize, any number of gays.
    Your tribute to Tim Belk will stay with me for a long time. I, too, have lost friends to this disease and find it ungodly that SC still has a growing population of AIDS victims. I live in Lexington County and am grateful that my own behavior of early days did not lead to being afflicted as have some of my friends.
    A book sharing those days in San Francisco might be terribly autobiographical, but worth the effort. You may be one of the few writers who could bring about another look at AIDS here and provoke more action on prevention. God bless you for being the kind of friend and Good Samaritan that we need so much in this world!

  • roy krell says:

    TIM , I DOUBT IF YOU REMEMBER ME, BUT WE MET AT TIM’S LITTLE GARAGE APT. HE HOSTED A PARTY ON HIS BACK DECK AND WE ALL DRANK PIMMS CUP WITH A SLICE OF CUCUMBER IN THEM . I LIVED AROUND THE CORNER. WHEN EVER I FELT ALONE I WOULD GO TO TIM’S AND SLEEP ON THAT SINGLE COT IN HIS BACK ROOM. HE WAS MY BEST FRIEND ALSO.. I WOULD SOMETIMES GO WITH TIM TO SAVANNAH WHEN HE PLAYED PIANO IN ONE OF THE GAY BARS. IF SOMEONE HIT ON ME I TOLD THEM POLITLEY NO THANK I AM WITH THE PIANIST LOL WE TALKED OFTEN WHEN HE MOVED TO CALIF… THERE WILL NEVER BE AN OTHER TIM BELK. WE WOULD GO TO CHARLESTON TO VISIT HIS FRIEND BERNIE, AN ELDERLY EX PRINCEPAL WHO LIVED SOB ‘SOUTH OF BROAD’ AND HAVE DRINKS IN THE GARDEN OF HIS WONDERFUL LITTLE CARRIAGE HOUSE. TIM WILL LIVE FOR EVER IN OUR HEARTS. SORRY FOR MY MISTAKES IN WRITING THIS AS I DO SO WITH TEARS IN MY EYES

  • Nora Westcott says:

    You are lucky to have had someone like Tim enrich your life. I wish he had been my friend too.

  • Carolyn says:

    A wonderful story of unexpected friendship!

  • Linda Bieker says:

    Mr. Conroy,
    This is beautiful. You are the kind of friend I hope to be.

  • Martha m. Jordan says:

    I don’t think I have ever read anything that so vividly expresses love for a friend as this tribute does! The two of you were very fortunate to have experienced life together. May you find peace and comfort in Tim’s homegoing. Sincerely, a southern born beach going girl since 1940. God bless… MJ

  • Randa Adams says:

    Somehow I knew your words were about Tim. Your books in my home are for the next generations to come as there will never be another Pat Conroy ……….. Your depth and perception of the human condition is beyond the pale. God Bless You!!!!

  • Becky Rutland says:

    Pat,as a nurse and humanitarian, I trully appreciate your dedication to the sick and abandoned. As an avid reader and aspiring writer, I enjoy hearing of a friend who could offer criticism of your writing and yet not change you. When I read your writing for the first time, The Prince of Tides, I discussed it with a friend who had already read it. I said, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to read it. It’s too flower-y.” She said, “I know but keep reading it.” So, I did, and I am glad to say, I found it introduced me to a style I grew to love because it not only painted a picture but conveyed a feeling. My mother, who loathed sports, said of The Prince of Tides: “Best description of a football game, ever!”
    Thanks for your example of unconditional love.

  • Carol Travis Tucker says:

    I decided that I was too tired to go to church this morning and would lie in bed and read instead. Your piece on your friend Tim was just beautiful. I have BEEN to church. Thank you!

  • ELIZABETH MORGAN says:

    THANK YOU. You are one of the most profoundly sensitive men I have ever had the pleasure to meet through reading… or any other venue. Love you…

  • Roger D. Stephenson says:

    As always I feel a kinship formed by your writing even on such a somber subject as the tragic death of a close friend. You were both enriched by your friendship as I am sure you realize. Thank you for finding the words to share that with those of us who were never privileged to meet either.

  • Tamara Canipe says:

    I am younger than you. I am 52. I had an older cousin raised in Charleston. He moved to San Francisco and was also a victim of this terrible disease. My southern family still dances around his memory. I am not sure if everyone really knows what he died of. My Aunt only told a few people because of the stigma. It was several years before my mother ever mentioned it. It saddens me because I have some great memories of him but it is taboo in my southern family to bring it up. I pray one day I will find the courage to talk with his two sisters about him.

  • Dora Finamore says:

    Pat, Thank you for sharing that beautiful and personal story about your relationship with Tim. No matter what you write, you make me laugh and cry, always wishing for more. I moved from Charleston three years ago, and I thank you for bringing me right back to S.C. and the several dear relationships I made there and continue to nurture. I so enjoyed the times I went to your book signings and/or readings, and hope to see you again. For now, I will keep reading whatever you write. You continue to touch my heart. Sincerely, Dora

  • Cyndi Colburn says:

    Sorry for your loss. I hope the fond memories of your friend will comfort you. Hidden in every tear is a fond memory.

  • Suzanne Hershey Ford says:

    Everyone else expressed all or part of my response to Tim’s very personal obituary. … So will you write mine? Love, Sue

  • Rebecca says:

    I have loved your writing for decades, and even though the ending of this story is not full-on happy, I loved this as well. Thank you for giving me years of pleasure losing myself in your wonderful stories. I gave your books to my late husband to read, and his comment to me was that you are the Mozart of story telling. High praise from him, as he loved Mozart above all other composers. I am so sorry you lost your good friend, but I am comfortable that he left knowing he was loved. That is the greatest gift we can give to another.

  • Stormy Young says:

    What a wonderful tribute to a wonderful and gifted man. I will always remember Tim from his time growing up in Fort Mill. Everyone thought the world of him and his musical talents. His father, Heath Belk had an orchestra that played for the prom in Fort Mill my junior year in high school. I was leaving my church in Fort Mill one day a couple of years ago and there stopped at the brick steps was a small car with two people. Driving was Tim Belk who I had not seen since his Aunt Hattie died in Fort Mill. Always smiling and laughing. It was like we had not been separated by miles and time.
    Your personality and music will go on forever. I will miss you my dear friend.

  • Cathy Ezell says:

    Fine words from your heart for a fine man.

  • Bettie Buccheri says:

    Dear Pat Conroy: Having grown up in Chester, SC, I knew Tim Belk. I did not see him again until our mutual friend Kathie Grenell invited me to SF. We had a great afternoon at his house where he made me play a Prokofieff piece he liked. There was lots of talk about classical music between all the laughter. Thanks for the beautiful tribute. I know him better now and mourn his loss for you and Kathie.

  • Anne Baskin Vaughan says:

    Pat, I, too, had the great pleasure of knowing Tim. I had no idea Tim was gay, and I don’t think I really knew what that meant anyway. I lived and taught in Beaufort from 65-67, leaving just as you arrived. Like Roy Krell, I remember going to Tim’s garage apartment, drinking with young, fun friends and enjoying Tim’s piano playing. My favorite tune was Hard Harded Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah. I can hear Tim belting it out right now. Our group ( Neta, Marchita, Mike, Bill and Anne, Connie, Roy, Kemper) were always interested in fun and Tim provided it. Marchita and I visited him in San Francisco in 1974 and then in more recent years I saw him in Charleston at Connie’s. One of my favorite stories is when Tim and I jumped off the dock at the Kennedy’s. The current was moving fast and we ended up in the bend of the river, luckily being picked up by a passing boat. Thankfully, we avoided oyster shells on the bank. As you can imagine, alcohol was involved in that escapade. Thank you for writing this heartfelt eulogy. Yes, Tim was a true Southern gentleman.

  • John Belk says:

    Thank you, Pat.

  • Lesa Williams says:

    Mr. Conroy,

    You will find comfort in your memories shared with your friend. I lost my best friend and mentor last year, almost a year. Now, we meet in my dreams.

    Lesa

  • Katherine Chakides Gaffos says:

    Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the friendship you shared with Tim Belk. I now grieve his loss as well, and at the same time rejoice that the two of you enjoyed a lifetime of genuine love, respect and devotion. May those tender memories keep you company as long as you live!

  • Susan Hatch says:

    Dear Mr Conroy,
    I loved the character Trevor Poe in South of Broad. As I was reading the book I often wondered about the people you made me love. I wondered if they were those you have known and loved yourself. You certainly wrote about them as if they were. My heart breaks along with yours over your loss.
    Blessings.

  • Mary Mack says:

    Tim was my second cousin, and this tribute captures exactly how he was as a person. I loved reading about the adventures of Pat and Tim. Tim definitely loved his Washington Square Bar and Grill, and we went there several times with him. (He was pissed when they closed it down a few years ago.) I never knew anyone who loved San Francisco as much as Tim did. He is going to be missed by so many friends and family.

  • Sue Kuppens says:

    Pat, I grew up in Charleston and as a local girl dated Citadel Cadets while a junior and senior in high school during the time you were there. We never met but the guys I knew were always such gentlemen. I know there were a few scoundrels in the bunch but I never saw that. My mother opened our home to any that needed a place to get away from school for a few hours. I love reading your stories about the low country. It makes me think of home. Your tribute to Tim Belk is some of the best of your writings. It brought back memories of my close friend who became a nurse and over time moved to California. She developed an infusion method to treat HIV patients at home that greatly extended some of their lives. Sadly we lost her in a tragic accident before I could tell her how proud I was of her. You will never have regrets about your friend ship and what you did for him.

    • Marchita Williams Culpepper says:

      Pat
      Thank you for writing such a beautiful tribute to Tim. He had a great sense of humor. I loved it when he played ragtime and boogie woogie on the piano in his gargage apartment in Beaufort. (1965-1967) He was truly a dear friend and one for the ages. Thanks for the memories! And please write another novel. I have all of your books!

  • Ann Axelson says:

    As my best friend said to me as she was dying of cancer, don’t cry because I am gone, smile because it happened.

  • Alison mcquade says:

    What a beautiful tribute.

  • Joyce Bouck Miller says:

    If every person had just one friend like Pat Conroy, what a better world this would be.

  • Susan Walker says:

    Pat, what a lovely, lovely tribute to Tim. Thank you for sharing.

  • Thank you for writing this wonderful piece about Tim. He was a friend of mine in San Francisco, and although I didn’t know him for even a decade, I miss him as well. We met at the Rosebowl Florist at Opera Plaza. I’m not sure if you’ve ever been there, but Deidre O’Merde, the owner, has a small wine bar at the back, and it’s a place where there is typically a small gathering of people who come in after work to visit with friends, tell stories and, on occasion, play music. I have made many a good friend there. Deidre has a sign that reads: “Be nice or leave.” Another friend refers to the Rose Bowl as a cross between the Algonquin Roundtable, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and Cheers.

    Tim was always one to have a tale to tell, a poem to recite, or a piece of music to marvel over.

    In 2004, when I first moved to San Francisco from the east coast, I arranged for a friend of my daughter’s to give a music performance at the Rose Bowl. And then one thing led to another. My flute teacher and I performed duets. One of my daughters hauled in her keyboard, guitar, and amps and entertained us. My other daughter sang. People we never knew could sing got up and belted out the blues, country-western music, and show tunes.

    On one of these musical evenings, Tim got his hands on our keyboard, and his playing and singing inspired Deidre to acquire a used keyboard to keep in the back of her flower shop for any time that might present itself for Tim to play.

    And he did. He played for my husband’s birthday party. He played with a singer-friend of his. He played, and we all marveled at how naturally the words and his accompaniment came to him. I marveled at his utter love of the language and music that one can create with just notes or words as a jumping off point.

    I saw his will and determination to live when and friend and I visited him in the hospital about a year and a half ago. He was in rough shape, but amused and entertained us nonetheless. He had something to say about the hospital staff, his almost inability to move, and what he’d be up to when he got out of “the damn place.” And you had to believe him.

    If you would like, I have a few photos I took of Tim playing and singing, and I’d be happy to send them to you.

    In reading your commemoration of Tim’s life, I learned so much more about him, and so I’m grateful for the friendship you had with him and your willingness to share what you knew so that people like me can continue, even now, to get to know him better.

  • Jim and John says:

    What a heart moving story. So sorry for the loss of a close loved friend.

  • Unita Belk Akins says:

    Thank you Pat for this amazing tribute to your friendship with dear Tim. I cried reading it. I will miss my sweet cousin so very much and what you have written here is perfect and beautiful. Thank you.

  • Penny says:

    Pat-what a fine tribute to your friend Tim—Your words bring such “life” to your characters and to your real friends—it no wonder that we cannot distinguish one from the other–

    Best Wishes..

    Your Harbor Island Neighbor

  • Susan says:

    Beautiful. These words are as music, and descriptive as a painting. It was very nice meeting Tim Belk today. Thank you!

  • Nancy Head Thode says:

    Pat, What a special tribute to a a very special person and friend. And thank you for remembering my mother, Ann Head, once again, so lovingly and appreciatively.
    How proud she would be of you!
    Hugs, nancy

  • emma ford says:

    Pat thank you for a wonderful example of true friendship. This is a perfect tribute to an important friend.

  • Father Tom Doyle says:

    Pat,

    I first met Tim over thirty years ago at a party on my boat. He instantly became a piece of my soul, even though I saw him only a couple of times after that. He played the piano that night, and I was rapturously conveyed to heaven. I played a few tunes myself, in terror after hearing such a gifted musician.

    To meet Tim was to love him instantly. He was the ‘real deal’ in every sense of the term. To be with him was like entering into a parallel universe – where beauty and depth abide – albeit the depth that has undeniable pain as part of its core.

    He is still with us – including me – in a way not definable, but nevertheless real.

    You might remember you and I once met at a party in San Francisco. Something about being with you nurtured and encouraged me in my own journey. For this, and for knowing Tim, I am ever-the-more enriched.

    Peace,

    Father Tom Doyle

  • Peter Mintun says:

    Dear Pat,
    Your story resonates deeply for me because I met Tim in the early 1970s when he was playing piano on Geary Street in (I think) Le Boeuf Restaurant in the El Cortez Hotel. The hefty soprano Annie Farrell sang there, and was occasionally joined by another huge singer named Eileen Gallagher. With Ann Farrell and Eileen Gallagher in the same room, the customers would walk away, tipsy, and tell their friends they heard Eileen Farrell. I adored Tim for his superb musicianship, good taste, sincerity, humor and his magnetic personality. We became friends while he worked for CSAAA on Van Ness Avenue.

    Around that time I got a job, playing piano at L’Etoile Restaurant in the Huntington, a job that lasted more than 16 years. Whenever I needed a “sub” I called Tim, because he not only knew all the tunes, but he was a warm, inviting person who could charm the pants off anyone, but wouldn’t take any crap either. His experience in different kinds of bars helped him get along with every kind of customer. If someone requested a song out of his genre, like Bob Dylan, he would say something like, “Well, Bob Dylan and I have a very special agreement: He doesn’t play any of my songs, and I don’t play any of his.”

    When the Restaurant wanted someone to play every Monday (my day off) I insisted that Tim be the one, so we always had good stories to trade whenever we got together in his neighborhood or the area in which he worked.

    I lost track of him when I moved to New York thirteen years ago. After recently finding a photo I took of Tim in 1982, I decided to try and find him. I saw he had a Facebook page, although his photograph did not resemble the Tim I remembered. The only notifications on his page indicated that a memorial service was scheduled for South Carolina. I sent a message anyway, praying that I could get some answers. Shortly after, I received a welcoming message from his cousin, Joe, suggesting I call him on the phone number that was Tim’s. I didn’t hesitate one minute before I dialed him in San Francisco. We had a lovely talk, and I deeply regret that I missed speaking to Tim by a few weeks.

    As you wrote, hardly any of Tim’s friends survived the epidemic of the 1980s and ’90s. We shared dozens of the same friends so I know he did not exaggerate. After talking with Joe I felt rather rudderless, because I could think of no one with whom I could share the news of his death. No one I knew would remember him. The Old Gang is gone – the gay pianists, singers, dancers, lawyers, doctors, plumbers, journalists, architects, hairdressers, designers, trust fund babies, cabinet makers and auto mechanics started vanishing thirty years ago. I personally lost more than 250 friends to AIDS.

    Then Joe sent the link to your remembrance of Tim. It painted such a vivid picture of Tim that I became entranced and did not want your story to end. I felt I was experiencing a little more borrowed time with Tim. He was extremely lucky that you accepted each other way back in your early years, and that you maintained a very special friendship until the end of his life. Few people are fortunate enough to have a friend as generous as you.

    When I finished your tribute I was speechless, but not speechless enough to neglect writing you and expressing my gratitude to you, for sharing your life with Tim, and for sharing Tim’s magic with so many who did not have the pleasure of Tim’s friendship. I sincerely look forward to the day when we can meet to trade stories about a truly “storied” man, the unforgettable (that is a song cue) Tim Belk.

  • Charles Friedman says:

    Thanks Pat for your remembrances and thoughts. Your words brought back to me the many memories I was fortunate to share with Tim. I’ll miss him and always hold his memory dear.

  • Mike Young says:

    Pat Conroy, your writing touches my heart. It simply and brilliantly touches my heart.

    The world is blessed to have you putting word to paper and allowing us into your world. A world as painful as any other. It is amazing how you have spent your life bringing beauty to that pain, at least that is how I would describe it now as I write this response.

    I so enjoyed your last book on the “Santini” as I traveled again through your books and characters. I could go on an on in praise of your writing, your humility and your vulnerability exposed in your words. We are all so grateful that you find comfort and therapy in sharing your most deepest self with us as readers.

    I am 46 with two boys continuing the work of being the father they need me to be and a good husband to my wonderful and beautiful wife.

    When I open the book and begin to read the first pages of your books my heart sinks and I smile from ear to ear.
    Thank you Pat Conroy for all your heart and soul contained in these books.
    Thank God for your presence here on this earth in this time with us.

  • Eileen Curry says:

    We sincerely hope that your books “Beach Music” and “South of Broad” will be made into movies. We even sit around and talk about which actor/actress should play which part. I used to work with a pastry chef who could easily have played John Harden in Beach Music. I always remember that line about how the other brothers said John H. had bats in his head. Keep writing – you light up the world!

  • Anita Huie says:

    Thank you . I feel like I knew him.

  • Catherine Beckham says:

    Pat,
    I wish I knew you well enough to ask you to transform my life of severe pain, tragedy and amazing experiences into a place of laughter and hope. You are my favorite writer and we even met a few times when I lived in Beaufort. Your brother Tim and I taught together for years and still keep in touch. I so admire your ability to use words I could never think of to bring me into your warped reality as if it were my own life. I have laughed and cried and mourned for and with your family. God bless you for your ability to create a story from the ubiquitous pain absorbed and secreted by those who spent their formative years in the south. You are proof positive that some of us, have and will somehow survive and possibly thrive.

  • Sanford White says:

    Thank you for the moving and personal tribute to a unique and wonderful human being.

    Tim was also an accomplished teacher of insurance with AAA. Talk about mismatching. His way with words and ability to share not uncomplicated concepts with us stays with me always. And he introduced us to boiled peanuts!! His ‘laconic’ speech patterns that could spell bind and jab at the same time. I was fortunate enough to spend some personal time with Tim and then drifted away into career and such. Finding out he lived as long as he did was a very pleasant and hopeful.

    Trevor Poe is one of my heroes in literature and I look forward to the other books written by Pat.

  • Blaine Fennell says:

    I dated Tim at Carolina in 1960-61. He sent me a beautiful silver tray for a wedding present in December 1962. I never heard from him after that. You can not know what it means to me to read what you wrote about his life.

  • Robert N. Burris says:

    Mr. Conroy Not knowing of Tim’s death until a fraternity brother sent me your piece or rather “peace” I passed it on to a lady he knew well in College.We are saddened at Tim’s passing. Your tribute was exceedingly well done. I was and am a fraternity brother of Tim’s Pi Kappa Alpha at South Carolina. I do not think any brothers knew or cared if Tim was gay. He was well liked and respected by the entire house, and everybody else as well. He was a true friend, and the world is a lesser place without him.

    Bob Burris

  • Alicia Cobb says:

    May The Angels Lead Him Into Paradise.

  • I loved Trevor in your book…I just knew he had to be based on someone you knew in life….you did a fine job of telling the world the true story of the AIDS epidemic in America…and the boys it took from us too soon…thank you…jude MacMillan

  • Kat says:

    What a loving tribute to your beloved friend, Tim. My cousin, also a Tim and a beautiful, funny, and handsome young man from Ohio died in San Francisco in the 80s from the same dreaded illness. As a child he often visited us in Tennessee, where his mother had been born and raised. He tried to live here when he was first diagnosed but encountered terrible cruelties and felt suffocated by the environment here. In an act of dignity and preservation of heart, he moved to be near dear friends in San Francisco, where he spent his final months. We talked often on the phone and reminisced about our teenage years and all the fun we had on warm, summer nights in the South when he and his brother and sisters would visit. He always hated how the bugs in the south tore up our legs when we played freeze tag and caught jarflies. He was fascinated by the ‘alien world’ of Southern insects (he grew up in Northern Ohio) and could spin those bugs stories into stories of the hate filled people he experienced here when ill and have me howling on the phone. Impolite of the both of us. Reading your note just now, I adopted a hope that he had the pleasure of meeting you out there, maybe being supported in some way by your kindness, though I can’t remember the timing or his exact location. His last months were harsh and difficult, as he had very little means and watched one by one as his loved ones died while he waited his turn to die alongside them. Surreal conversations, counting minutes while talking of death in the days of paid long distance, about an illness that was shadowy, vicious and terrifying. I would call him on a shared community phone where whoever answered would have to go and retrieve him and it took many long minutes before he would appear on the line, always breathless from the walk and always cheerful. He would lie propped against the wall and talk to me until he was too exhausted to continue, and sometimes a few minutes more. The love/hate need/rejection of family played havoc with his heart as he processed his short life with me while ‘waiting to die’ there. He told me he wouldn’t choose to die anywhere else, as he felt loved and accepted and at peace to die with some dignity. He would not speak of his troubles or need, except when I would insist I wanted to send my love in the form of whatever he might need. The only need he expressed was for sweat pants to help with the cold and to fit his ever shrinking body. I longed to visit him but was raising a child as a single mother and working long hours and he insisted he wanted me to remember him before his body was so ravaged. Our last goodbye escapes me except for remembering how sure he was that it was our last conversation, and his continued cheery, graceful manner as he called me by the nickname he proudly coined for me years before. He was strict about not allowing sadness and at leaving me laughing. Even after all these years, I still chastise myself at feeling the sadness of his situation. Thank you for what you wrote here. I had no intention of telling my Tim’s story when I started this note. Your writing, as always, cracked open my heart, and this seemed the place and time to tell it. It is rude, I suppose, but hopefully understood. He bears remembering. I hope you find healing at MD Anderson and that you are surrounded with love and peace as you deal with whatever comes. You have given so many gifts to us, your readers. Thank you, Mr. Conroy.

  • Maggie Hensley (Kalbrener) says:

    Today I read of Pat’s passing. I immediately thought of how Tim would grieve. Then I found this and am now the one grieving. Tim was a dear friend. When asked to do something he didn’t think he would enjoy, he would look at me and drawl, “But dear, I’d rather be at SEARS trying on work gloves!”

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