Conroy At70 – Happy Birthday To Me…

Wendell Minor Design

I’ve always taken great pleasure in reading the biographies of other writers whose books have sustained and gladdened my heart. Yesterday, I finished The Last Love Song, a biography of Joan Didion by Tracy Daugherty. Whenever I encountered Ms. Didion’s prose it turned me into a grinning fool because of its strange perfection and her ability to make me see things in ways I never imagined. I once went to dinner with Joan Didion and her husband John Gregory Dunne at Elaine’s.

Nan and Gay Talese

We were guests of my editor Nan Talese and her husband Gay Talese. Elaine’s was a watering hole for writers and celebrities and it was proof of their inferior palates that they chose that troubled restaurant to stem their hunger. I found myself in the men’s room with the huge actor Mr. T. that night. When I looked over as I stood beside him peeing, I said, “Mine’s bigger,” and Mr. T screamed with laughter and I’ve loved Mr. T since that moment.

From her writing, I thought that Joan Didion would prove elliptical and mysterious and so she did. A beautiful woman, she took me in with a mermaid’s dark eyes, but they could turn into a cobra’s with the slight rise of an eyebrow. My instinct is to gush when I meet a writer I revere, but long experience has taught me it’s a dangerous instinct. Greg did not warm to my presence and I felt him pulling back from me, an old gunfighter’s instinct I’ve long encountered with male writers, and more frequently now, with women. I was worried that by praising his wife I would somehow diminish him, even though I talked about two of his novels that I’d really liked. I was also aware that Gay Talese might have well been the finest writer at the table that night. So I listened and took it all in and found myself delighted with the account of Joan Didion’s life that I bought the day it was published. The biography was a crash course in what had made me fall in love with Joan Didion’s style in the first place. It had always been a point of amazement to me that Ms. Didion could hide all essences of her self in the beauty of her immaculate sentences. Though I could never fall in love with her soul, I could always be captive to her style. She lacked the interior eye, but absorbed everything that took place in her sight and hearing. As I suspected, she offered Mr. Daugherty no help at all in the writing of his book about her life. He wrote a splendid book without her help and it’s my theory he wouldn’t have learned that much about her if she had granted him full access. Some people are like that; so are some writers.

I’m not like that. I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. But that knowledge grants me insight and causes me no despair. The journey has defined me, inspired me, and forced me to write on. I’ve tried to read the biography of every writer who has kept me awake at night, thrilled me with their talents to make a world I didn’t know existed, and taken me on a joy ride into the land of fiction that has provided some of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever had. Over the years, I’ve read hundreds of biographies and all of them told me something I needed to know and what to watch out for and the collisions I needed to avoid. They fed the writer in me and all of them told me that the world was the only thing that counted, that what I produced and its quality was all that mattered. It was at the writing desk that I would be made or broken. In every biography of every writer, that was the secret to our kingdom of words. No other measurement counted for anything at all.

Katherine Clark

I have some reckoning and summation entering into my own life. Two biographers have entered my life and it’s made me take notice of my own troubled, untidy passage through time. Katherine Clark, a novelist and writer from Birmingham, has recently completed an oral biography that she took from over two hundred hours of interviews she recorded over the past several years. I lack all gifts of reticence or caution and every time Katherine relates some outrageous or libelous quote from the book, I wince then swear I never said such a thing. “I have it on tape, Pat,” she says, winning each argument. She has captured me uncensored and the whole thing makes me think of root canals and colonoscopies.

Understanding Pat Conroy

The next biographer teaches English and Women’s Studies at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and her name is Catherine Seltzer. She just published a book with the University of South Carolina Press called Understanding Pat Conroy. Catherine has undertaken the cheerless task of writing a conventional biography about me and because my ego has swollen into elephantine dimensions in my dotage, I agreed to do it with one undebatable provision. Under no terms would I agree to cooperate with Dr. Seltzer on an “authorized biography.” Often writers make such demands on their biographers out of a sense of being able to control their stories and what is written about them, their friends, and their family. I wouldn’t participate in an authorized biography for any reason because I thought it would be a betrayal of everything I thought I stood for in life. I told Catherine that if she didn’t include the unexpurgated memories of my friends and enemies, ex-wives and girlfriends, hostile critics and others who have reason to renounce my career and life as a complete failure, her book would be worthless. The stories of when I acted like an asshole need to have equal weight with those rare moments of decency when I was of some credit to my species. There was to be no interference with her conclusions from me or my heirs. Catherine Seltzer agreed to all that. I required her to tell the life story I wasn’t aware I lived or the one I was ashamed of living.

This was all preamble to bring me to the subject of this letter. Much to my surprise, I’ll be turning seventy years old at the end of this month. When I was thirty I think I looked at people who were seventy as frail relics of time who had all seen Ivory-billed woodpeckers and passenger pigeons from their childhoods. I remember going to Kitty Mancini’s fiftieth birthday party in Alexandria, VA, given by her children, Mike, Patty and Sharon Mahoney, my three best friends from my grade school days, and I thought as I kissed that kindest of women that it was a shame she would be dead so soon. The same children gave Kitty a party on her 90th birthday in Richmond last year.

But the subject of death is a frequent one among my friends these days. Terry Kay, the novelist, has announced his demise on a daily basis for the last twenty years. I’ve worried about my friend Anne Rivers Siddons’ health for the last five years. My wife Cassandra is a member of the Hemlock Society and hides potions in her closet I’m not to ask about on pain of divorce court. My irreplaceable friend Doug Marlette died in his fifties in a Mississippi car wreck. Jane Lefco, who took care of my finances, died of an embolism while still beautiful and young. My brother Tim killed himself at 34. I lost eight classmates in the Vietnam war and four of them were boys I loved.

So this number has deep resonance and I’m taking it more seriously than I ever thought I would. It strikes a biblical chord in me. The town of Beaufort is throwing me a birthday party.

There is a great central flaw in my character that I’ve gone out of my way to conceal. Though I find a perfect comfort zone in all forms of chaos, I’ve never shown a similar ease when I discover any intrusion of joy, or God forbid, happiness inviting me to a party at their house. In my own lifetime, I’ve found myself resolute in the face of terrible abuse, the suicide of family and friends, divorce courts, plebe systems, the death of my mother and father, betrayal by people I adored, breakdown, humiliation, and the list goes on and on. It seemed like the natural state of human affairs to me, but it gave me enough time and material to write the books I once dreamed as a boy of writing.

Discord has been my theme. It has agitated me that I find myself approaching my 70th birthday and have discovered within myself a capacity for joy I never once felt any capacity for having. To write it down strikes a chord of sappiness in me. But in my career, if I discovered something rising out of me I took it as a point of honor to write it down. I’ve found myself studying my past of late, and though there has been a theme of discordance and tragedy in my work and life, I’ve been a supremely lucky man. But a happy one? This is a river without markers or navigational charts for me.

USC at Beaufort

The University of South Carolina is throwing a party for me. They are calling it, I say with a seventy-year-old sigh, ‘Conroy at 70.’ I know why I agreed to do it. It was a victory of human vanity over human modesty. Nothing else. I’ve tried to avoid moments like this in my life and it was one of the first surprises I had as a writer that I was expected to give talks and presentations whenever a new book came out. Writers write because they don’t want to speak, but I was a young man when the media and celebrity culture took off around me. I discovered early that I don’t read well from my books, that my tone turns pretentious and old-testament as soon as I begin reciting words I’ve written down alone at a desk. Frankly, I find myself near hysteria whenever I listen to my brother and sister writers read portions of their own noble work. This requires a courage I lack and my dread of boring an audience is close to obsessional. Early on, I decided I would tell stories of my family, friends and experiences I had as a young southerner at field in play with the lions of the New York literary world. Later, Hollywood provided a rich vein of golden tales to choose from. My voice is an insufficient, reedy instrument and I still recoil when I hear it played back to me, the same way Sister Sebastian once played back the one sentence I had memorized for a Christmas pageant in sixth grade. But the subject is vanity and its squeaky little pal, humility. My parents did not cotton well to boasting, so I developed an aura of false modesty, so sincere and all consuming that it still looms as both the phoniest and most insincere thing about me.

Bernie Schein

My best friend, the abomination Bernie Schein, still believes it to be a bewildering effective mask of supreme narcissism. Since Bernie’s the most self-inflating narcissist of our times, I must give great weight to his testimony. He has studied me up close for fifty years.

Cassandra and I

But I agreed to the party and now the day is upon me. I had nothing to do with its planning, its execution, its invitation list or anything else about it. It fills me with dread, an existential horror and a nightmare coming to pass. I understand my children are all coming and my vengeful brothers and sisters, except for the Conroy family poet Carol Anne Conroy who wouldn’t come unless I agreed to a second circumcision. The week will begin October 28th when Rob Warley and Jim Hare will be married in our backyard on Battery Creek. Then there’ll be a lot of panels and gatherings and friends making a joyful noise about my body and body of work. My wife, the quiet, untrustworthy woman I made vows to, has been a co-conspirator in all this. But it will take place in Beaufort, the town that welcomed me home when I rode in following my father’s warplane in 1961. It was in Beaufort that I discovered myself, and it provided the stairway into a future that seemed impossible to dream of and terrified me by the force of its ambition. I was not born until I was fifteen years old. It happened here, in Beaufort, in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides, its modest, easy grandeur where I once celebrated being 16, now will turn 70 by its same scrupulous landscape and the place I will one day be buried – in great gratitude and an infinity of joy.

Pat Conroy

141 Responses to Conroy At70 – Happy Birthday To Me…

  • Jennifer Rahaley says:

    Happy Birthday Pat Conroy! Thank you for all of your beautiful words, my favorite author- I’m so glad to have met you- please continue sharing your thoughts and words with us- for many years to come!!

  • Randy Turner says:

    I have enjoyed your books over the years. I’ve laughed, cried, silently wept as I felt
    you had pierced my emotional shield. Thanks for what you do and how you bring me to parts unknown.

  • Barb McWethy says:

    Thank you for The Water is Wide, and have a very Happy Birthday!

  • Kris says:

    Happy Happy Birthday, Pat! Loved reading the letter about your approaching milestone. Your humor is unsurpassed. Just enjoy it … and start thinking about how you want to celebrate your 80th! Have a huge piece of cake and damn the calories!

  • Lisa says:

    I have always loved your work. Happy Birthday!!!!!

  • Earlece Pearce says:

    Everything you write is filled with beautiful, lyrical word pictures that touch my heart and soul. Thank you for so many hours of pleasure and wonderful books that enrich the life of this Southern girl. Happy Birthday and many years of health happiness and writing.

  • Jennifer Reynolds-Silvas says:

    What a fantastic reflection! Happy Birthday, and truly enjoy the hoohah in your honor. Writing books people love is such an amazing gift to the world. You’ve given people, escape, joy, something outside themselves to connect to, and best of all a comforting friend when spending time alone. Few people truly reach people to their souls. The fact you have graced folks with that gift for so long is definitely reason to give you honors.
    Cheers to many more years, and shared stories with the world Mr. P!

  • Luanne young says:

    Happy Birthday Pat

  • Mary Azoy says:

    You are one marvelous writer – novels, memoirs and blogs alike. You deserve all the joy you will permit yourself, and more. Happy Rituals!

  • Judith Adkins Thompson says:

    Pat, you, my Dear, are a Southern Treasure! Reading your words is like hearing a familiar melody playing in my mind! I look so forward to seeing your posts on FB and with one touch on my iPad, I am directed to your superb musings of the happenings and remembrances in
    your life! It’s like a chapter book which(I hope) will continue for many years ahead! We share close birthdays and close ages–October 28, 1946, as well as crossed paths. I’m a North Carolina “Girl,” but grew up in Alexandria, VA! Happy, Happy Birthday, Pat, and best wishes for happy days ahead! “May the Force be with you!!

  • Everett Tolton says:

    I enjoyed this bit of remembrance and honesty. Everything you write comes out beautifully said and deeply inspiring and I’m sure that wasn’t your initial intent. Happy Birthday to you, Sir and I hope your flag continues to wave and you write best sellers into your nineties, for I sense it is in writing that you find your center and your real reason for existing.

  • Bill Garrity says:

    Happy birthday Mr. Conroy.. I wish I could repay the gifts you’ve given to me over the years. The gift of your beautiful words that have made me feel so many emotions but mostly just alive. I wish you many more happy years.

  • Don Cluff says:

    happy birthday pat ! Cheers .

  • Linda Tucker Gitter says:

    Pat, I enjoyed knowing you in high school and I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with you through your books. Beaufort was and is a special place, and I wish I could be there for your celebration. When I turned 70 this past July, my family and friends gave me a special birthday dinner which was so extraordinary that it was worth becoming 70 to have it. I look forward to the books you may write in the future. And please say hello to Bernie Schein…he was my date to the Junior-Senior Prom in 1962!

  • Hansley Cook says:

    Happy Birthday Pat!
    Thank you for the gifts of yourself via your shared stories, love of the south, and profound generosity as witnessed by your continued fondness for Bernie.

  • Meeting you at the South Carolina Book Festival was my Joan Didion moment. Thank you for all of the wonderful books you have written. And happy birthday!

  • Linda Grayson says:

    Dear Mr. Conroy. Have a fabulous birthday then get busy writing another book. I can’t wait any longer for the most AMAZING writer of our age to give us another gift.

  • Sue Dougherty says:

    Enjoy your day!
    Sue. Dougherty

  • Ellie says:

    If you ever run out of family stories I have plenty from my childhood in West Ashley. Your words are what I could never conjure. Thank you for teaching others to laugh at our own insanity and by doing so we felt normal. Happy Birthday Mr Conroy.

  • Mike Tant says:

    Happy Birthday to my favorite author, Pat Conroy. I’m sorry to say that I keep missing you. We were out of town a few weeks ago when you were in Nashville. Probably my favorite book is “Beach Music” because it speaks to our generation (I’m about a year behind you). I know it is too complex to ever become a movie but I think it would be wonderful if someone with great talent took it on.

  • Vicki Cone says:

    Happy Birthday and thank you for enriching my world!

  • Anne Cubley says:

    Happy 70th Birthday…….and many more.

  • Cristina Lopez says:

    Happy Birthday Mr. Pat Conroy! You’re the best!

  • Gary Bell says:

    Pat, years ago, your writing inspired me to take up the evil craft. Since, I have learned everything about myself except ANYTHING. To contemplate a life without your words is to adore the abyss. God sometimes grants us special favors. You are my gift. What I wouldn’t do just to soak in the rich fiber of your soul that will be in abundance at your 70th birthday party. I must be content with a quick read of one of your books, all of which radiate your essence. Happy Birthday!

  • Carl Rifino says:

    Tanti tanti auguri, signore, per settan’anni. I unabashedly admit to reading Beach Music every time we visit Rome – and we do so once or twice a year. I’m not ashamed that I have followed – as best as circumstances would permit – Jack’s routes through that City of Wonder as he takes Leah to school and temple, weaves his way down minor streets to churches for clandestine meetings with Jordan, dines with Shyla (and later with Martha) at Da Fortunato (the food was terrible), and savors the scents and sights of the Campo di Fiori. Buon compleanno.

  • Anne Marie Lapierr says:

    Happy Birthday Mr. Conroy.
    I have read every book you have ever written. When friends ask why you are my favorite author I tell them I see and feel what you have written. Your words evoke images in my mind.
    I hope you have a wonderful birthday filled with joy. Good luck at the party.
    Anne Marie in Montreal, Canada

  • Mark Turner says:

    Dear Mr. Conroy,
    Your writing has done more for me to make meaning of my own world than any other author save the Holy Spirit and it is a close call even then. Happy Birthday.

  • Carol Martin says:

    Happy Birthday! Your writing has made me laugh and made me cry. You have touched my heart with your work. From the time I read “The Water is Wide” I became fan. Thank you for sharing your gift with the world!

  • J W Wolford says:

    In 1971, I began reading the works of Pat Conroy. From the very beginning, I enjoyed and read every book you put out there for me to read. With much love and respect, I wish you a happy 70th event. Happy Birthday my friend !

  • Lynn Carrington says:

    Happy Birthday dear man. I’ll be celebrating with you in spirit!

  • Marty Shannonhouse says:

    Welcome to the club. Seventy is a privilege denied to many. What joy you have brought to so many of us. Happy Birthday, Pat.

  • Happy birthday to my favorite author who has a command of the English language that only Hawthorne would take notice. Thank you for hours of wonderful reading. I always hate for your books to end!

  • Sally Demling Haeberle says:

    Pat Conroy, you have made me laugh and cry for over 40 years through your marvelous writings. Wishing you a very happy birthday and praying for your continued health and happiness.

  • Tom Gehl says:

    If you had never written anything by My Losing Season, you would stand in the pantheon of my favorite authors – it is a masterpiece. God Bless you on your birthday, and all others.

  • Sharon Douglas says:

    Happy birthday Mr. Conroy ! Thank you for all the wonderful books! You are my very favorite author and your books touch my heart and soul. When can we expect another one?

  • Vickie H. says:

    Happy Happy Birthday, my dear man! Your work has been so important to so many of us. I have no doubt, were our paths to cross, your friendship would be as well! May God bless and keep you, forever and a day!

  • Jo Ellen Hammer Carci says:

    Happy 70th Birthday Pat Conroy ! I have enjoyed your masterful writing and look forward to more great stories .. remember .. the best is yet to be !

  • Carla Damron says:

    Thank you, Pat, for allowing this celebration. Like it or not, you are loved and cherished by us. I wish I could be there. I wish the whole state could be there to celebrate your words, your honesty, and your imperfectly perfect humanness. Happy birthday, Pat!

  • Janie Hopwood says:

    You produce my favorite books. Wish I could meet and talk to you about books,stories,and Beaufort. Have a wonderful birthday.

  • Di says:

    Your writing stirs our imagination, is so fluid and easy to feel and live within the pages..a true gift from God that you should celebrate….enjoyed your many tales. Have a very happy, healthy and prosperous day and decade

  • Jason Bennett says:

    Happy Birthday sir. Your books never fail to b ring both a smile and a tear. Here’s to at least 30 more years !!! Keep at those workouts !

    Jason Bennett
    Citadel Class of 1990
    Charlie Company

  • Cindy McDonald says:

    Mr. Conroy you will live forever.
    Best Wishes from Cindy [at 69].

  • Sandra Joines says:

    Happy birthday wishes for an awesome 70th.

    Your books have left a lasting mark deep within my soul.

  • Jenny Butler says:

    Thank you. Since you love memoir, here’s the name of a new one you can check out on “Stolen Water, Forgotten Liberties: A True Story of Life on Arkansas’ South Highway 14 and the Buffalo River.” Loved your heart since The Great Santini.” –Jenny Butler

  • Ofelia Cheek says:

    Happy Birthday,Mr.Conroy!!!Thank you for all your wonderful books!!!Truly enjoyed most of them……(except THE BOO ) Have a wonderful celebration of your natal day!!!!

  • Yvonne McCoy says:

    Happy birthday to my favorite author! So glad to hear you are having a fabulous party to celebrate 70!

  • Mary Bayer says:

    Pat, your books have touched me deeply. I had the amazing pleasure of meeting you at two book signings. The last was was in Beaufort For South of Broad. I am so sorry to miss your birthday celebration but know you will be feted and roasted by the best of them. Your stories stir my soul for I find my childhood memories of a father distant and unrelenting in his meanness. But more precious is I find a capacity to relish beauty in spite or perhaps because of that. I love Beaufort, having discovered it years ago as my husband and I set off from our hotel in Savannah to explore. Even though I live in Ohio, my soul finds it’s most content in the South. I feel “home” there. Would have moved years ago were it not for the birth of my precious grandson ten years ago. So Pat, celebrate heartily and know you are treasured by many. Happy Birthday!

  • Nadine Doua says:

    Bon anniversaire Monsieur Conroy. J ai lu l un de vos livres par hasard et j ai dévoré tous les autres… Merci pour cette part de rêve.

  • Micheline Vidal says:

    Bon Anniversaire a vous Monsieur Conroy j aime beaucoup votre écriture ….

  • Terry Freeland says:

    Happy birthday to my favorite author. My son and I have Oct. 27th birthdays which is very special. Cheers! We’ll celebrate at Lake Lure at the end of the month. Wish you could join us.

  • Randy Blackmon says:

    Pat, happy birthday. I am surprised you have lived this long. Your writing gave me a brand new world. You make it look natural and easy on the page. You tricked me into thinking I could write too. Shame on you! You definitely should have a second circumcision.

    One of my life’s finest moments was kneeling beside you in Fairhope, Alabama, as you signed South of Broad. I felt anointed and chosen. And I am.

    With gratitude,

  • Jane Tucker says:

    I read The Water is Wide in grad school 40 years ago and everything else you’ve written in the ensuing years. Still love you…even more at 70! Happy Birthday and keep the books coming!!

  • Trish Emery says:

    Your words laid bare my lowcountry soul. Today, when I paint the scenes of our home, it’s always with your images echoing in my mind, your colors reflected back to my artist’s eyes.

  • I’m in the process of writing my memoir and am finding it difficult. Not only is it hard to look back at some of my mistakes but to acknowledge them along with my insecurities, etc. Oh woe. It is also difficult to be nice in writing about my ex-husband knowing that my son and grandson (for whom I’m attempting this endeavor) will read it. Any advice as I also wish you a happy birthday?
    P. S. I’m looking at my 75th in November.

  • Happy Birthday Pat. I love everything you have ever written. I have laughed and cried as I perused through the pages of your books. You have been a real inspiration to me to start blogging stories about our family. Thank you for that. My late husband, Jack, was a 1953 Citadel grad and he wore the ring proudly. Go Dawgs! Please keep on writing, can hardly wait for your next book.

  • Waylon Wood says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Conroy. Your works have meant a lot to me as a reader and writer. I’m glad you’re in the world. Come by and see us in Asheville when you get a chance.

  • Emelyn Gail says:

    Happy 70th Birthday to my favorite Word Weaver.

  • Annette Durham Mucciolo says:

    Happy Birthday

    I love your books and everyone stirs my southern soul. Hope for many more.

  • Penny reeder says:

    May 70 and beyond bring you — and all of us who peer over the edge of 70 with trepidation and a sense of unreality — joy and the good sense to revel in it with abandon and gratitude. Thank you for the many moments of pleasure — and catharsis — your novels — and your recipes — have given me over my own 69 years of living. Happy birthday.

  • Rachel Evans says:

    Happy Birthday, Mr. Conroy! I have been in love with you and your works all my life. You have made me laugh and cry and my heart long to see all the places you describe in your books. I cannot say what book is my favorite, as they all evoke so many emotions. I hope someday to meet the man who has given me so many hours of reading pleasure!

  • Kathryn K. Tetterton says:

    Many “happy returns of the day” to my favorite author. You will never know how you much you words have touched my heart and affected me. God bless you.

  • Gerrie Lipson Sturman says:

    Happy birthday greetings to you! Not only do your writings give me pleasure, I can also boast that the lace-up tennis shoes in the basketball scene from “The Great Santini” came from my father’s shoe store (Mickey’s – not the other one!) To be honored by the city of Beaufort, the USC and Bernie Schein is a wonderful thing. Congrats to you – the only author who could make my Yankee husband consider future retirement in SC! (BHS – class of ’67)

  • Gayle Caruso says:

    This September I turned 66 years old and my Birthday present was to come to Beaufort to your Birthday weekend. I am so honored I will finally get to be in the same room with you . I now can check another thing on my bucket list. Happy Birthday Pat and thank you for all your beautiful words that have given me the strength to accept my crazy dysfunctional childhood.

  • Colleen Lahey says:

    Happy Birthday Pat to my most favorite author of all times. I adore your writing and just because you are turning 70 does not give you license to stop writing more novels. I wish you joy and happiness in your birthday celebrations. Someday please travel up north to Maine. We have wonderful lobster and clams which would be a change from southern fare. There would also be a ton of fans waiting to greet you at the state line.

  • Deb Cross says:

    Mr. Conroy- Happy Birthday! Thank you for some of the best books I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Whenever I meet someone who professes to not like to read I (for many years now) always recommend one of your books. You as a writer have a rare ability to pull a person in and make them one of your crowd. A reader doesn’t so much read your books as go along for the wonderful ride. Thank you for everything.

  • Patrick Cornelius says:

    Enjoyed reading the essay. Currently rereading ‘The Prince of Tide.’ I’ve been a fan since I first read it 29 years ago. Happy 70th and many, many more to come.

  • Amanda Bauknight says:

    Happy Birthday with wishes for many more, no matter how much “the Golden Age sucks”, to quote an eighty-eight year old friend! I love your cookbook!

  • Phyllis Cole says:

    Mr. Conroy,

    Thank you for a lovely life well spent at the keyboard of a typewriter or computer. I’ve loved your writing for as long as I can remember and praise The Prince of Tides as my all time favorite novel. As a girl who was raised on the coast of North by God Carolina, your writing speaks to a part of eye like nothing else can. I suppose I should thank God that you were born a son of the South and thank your parents for bringing you to the coast. I wish you the happiest of birthdays and pray that there will be many, many happy returns of the day.

    Semper Fi!

  • Nancy Isbell says:

    Happy, Happy Birthday Pat. So great to see you again at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville a couple of weeks ago. You are officially as old as I am now!!!
    Tell Bernie we missed him!

  • gwenfish says:

    Happy 70 th birthday to my favorite author! Hank you for books I can read over and over!

  • Penelope Irby Lyle says:

    Happy Birthday Pat,
    You don’t know me, but I am thrilled to have a chance to tell you that your books have in mysterious ways touched and nudged my life.

  • Sam Hurley says:

    Happy Birthday Pat. Thank you for your fantastic work and unwavering dedication.
    I’m a fellow Citadel English major and proud neighbor to your old Beaufort High classmate, Winston Davidson. We have shared many a night discussing everything from Water is Wide up to South of Broad. Look us up if you’re ever on Edisto.

    Sam Hurley, Lima 08

  • Ann Axelson says:

    Happy birthday!! Enjoy your celebration. I turn 63 this week so I am right on your heels. The best is yet to be.

  • Elisa Velarde says:

    Your books were a powerful influence on me and my writing (closeted though it may have been for many years). Happy Birthday and many, many happy returns.

  • Erik Kirkhorn says:

    Well said, Pat. While you would scoff at the thought, you are a national treasure. We look forward to learning how you’re doing on your 90th. Enjoy the day.

  • Brenda Ripley Heltz says:

    Happy Birthday Pat, wishing you the best to come. Love reading your books and remembering you as one of my teachers at Beaufort High School. Great to see you enjoying life to the fullest.

  • Maggie Butler says:

    I grew up in Raleigh, NC but went to UNC Chapel and tonight I am already wearing Carolina blue in Perparation for BBall season.
    My dear, departed little daddy, gone from my sight when I was 14 due to having contracted the virus of Lou Gehrig’s disease when stationed near Guam.
    I was born in Greenville, SC in 1943.
    I am so grateful for his return and with his mind and body intact that I wrote about Cherry Grove and Little River and Ocean Dr. In the 50s .Go State!!
    My book has been years in the making but I am still helping my younger husband by 10 years. My birthday was July 2. I believe it was a Friday.
    My sweet daughter married to my son the freelance writer.
    Ever heard of David Crockett, the man and the Legend, published by UNC Chapel Hii press? Check it out. It is the definitive Biog. Meticulously researched…Bet I’m more naked than you. When exactly did you term over in you grave and confess all. In memoriam, Maggi Shackford Butler.

  • Alan Rosenfeld says:

    Your words are special…they speak to me in a very personal way.
    Happy 70th and please keep them coming!

    Alan Rosenfeld

  • Vivian Quinones says:

    Happy birthday to my favorite writer. Your words have filled my heart and soul with joy forever. No other writer compares. Have a wonderful time!

  • A Trullinger says:

    I just finished My Reading Life that mom got from the library. Now I can finish Death of Santini. Thank you Mr. Conroy!!

  • Tom Wasdin says:

    We wish you a very happy birthday. I was an assistant coach at Jacksonville University when we play The Citadel in basketball when you were a guard On that team. I enjoyed “The Losing Season” very much. Wayne Kruer, the JU guard you played against, now lives in Key West. I have enjoyed following your career. Peter Karasotis wrote my life’s story. “Once a Coach, Always a Coach” is the title of the book.

  • Chuck DAle says:

    Ann and I wish you a fantastic 70th birthday. Although it has been many years since our paths have crossed, the memories of being in Beaufort when you were teaching on Daufuskie Island are some of my favorite treasures. It was hard to replace you at BHS. That was a great year with you, George, Bernie, and others.. I agree with you that to have Carol Anne attend, the price is too high.
    Enjoy your birthday celebration. Happy Birthday!

  • Kathy Dekker says:

    Happy Birthday Mr, Conroy. You are such a gifted writer. What I love even more is your humility. You keep aspiring for a greater talent by learning from others and giving them credit and positive affirmations. I have slways wanted to be a writer, but after reading your words that are so descriptive and make me want to sit down in the scene and be part of it, I worry at age 63 that the book will never come. But that is okay. I have people like you in my life to keep inspiring me. Have an exceptional day.

  • You made me laugh with your paragraph about “Kitty Mancini’s fiftieth”; that age was a mile marker for me too…it was simply SO OLD!! How different those numbers feel when one lives beyond the marker and discovers just how similar life feels despite one’s dotage!

    I also wanted to take this moment to tell you—because I’ve always wanted to tell you—what an impact your work has had on me as a writer. When I read Prince of Tides many years ago, I remember putting the book down and saying to myself, “Now, why on earth would I ever consider writing when THIS writer exists on this earth?” Your work was so staggeringly beautiful and evocative, I could see no reason to attempt the craft myself.

    But over time and continued reading, I found the ways you put things together— your particular perspective, the details and nuances that rang so true to me, the ideas and images that resonated and made me FEEL so much—became more about inspiring than intimidating, and I used my admiration to push forward to be the best writer I could possibly be (an ongoing process!). It’s possible a writer of your stature doesn’t always know the little imprints you make on people from afar, and so I wanted to tell you that: you make me a better writer. That’s quite a gift; thank you.

    And Happy, Happy Birthday! I hope you enjoyed your party!


  • Carol Ann Brown says:

    You sound like a person I know who suffers from a crippling case of Planner’s Remorse”. Too much build up, followed by the let down one feels the day after Christmas, or their huge Wedding.There’s that dreaded period of anticlimax. Just don’t see yourself as the belle of the ball and pretend it’s about everyone else at the party! Because… It is! I just hope you show up and fake it as best you can. Yet, I hope there will be moments where you slow down enough to breathe it all in! Looking around and wondering at those present, and knowing there may never again be the opportunity to be in the company of all those in attendance.It’s a story you know by rote. Try to have a good time, just the same. It’s just another day!

  • Richard j. Rowning says:

    Happy 70th to the greatest English language author since Bill Shakespeare! May you live long and your writing continue for many more years!

  • Pat:
    With tears in my eyes, and great swelling my heart. I am grateful you have found that joy, in no small part because of Sandra. I remember you telling me once that you had finally gotten it right. And so you have, my friend. So you have. I’m printing this essay off and sharing it with my Honors class this week, because I am now teaching boys like the 15-year-old you once were, and they need the hope that they, too, will rise above the chaos that is their current reality. I wish I could be there to help you and Sandra and Marjorie and Patti and Mary Alice celebrate. Just know I’m celebrating you in the classroom.

  • Mary Lou Eddings says:

    Happy Birthday! I have enjoyed all of your books, thanks for sharing your stories!

  • Mary B. Carson says:

    Happy Birthday “CONRACK!” You were THEN and always WILL BE a TEACHER!

  • Lana hollmann says:

    A very happy birthday to you, Pat. i cannot tell you how happy, sad, and joyous you have made me and millions of others through your books. I still say it was a highlight of my life to have met you at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul. I am still wondering why you stated that you do not like Minnesota. I know it is cold in the winter but we are very loving people. I have inhaled and loved every word you have written that has been published. I am waiting (so are millions of others) for your next book. Your words take my breath away.

    Lana Hollmann

  • Natalie Simpson says:

    Happy Birthday, Pat. I think you are the best author in the USA. Your words touch my heart and soul as no other writer.

  • Kim Sanders says:

    Happy 70th Birthday and thank you for sharing your writing gift. I love your books.

    I met your friend Terry Kay at my friend’s book club in Stone Mountain, Georgia, this month. I mention this only because you were discussed. He told the story of how you forced him to become a fiction writer. Kay is a great storyteller and entertained the book club for hours.

    I told Mr. Kay that I love your books, and that I have met you a couple of times (on Fripp Island and at the Columbia Book Festival) but that you wouldn’t remember me because I was too tongue-tied to speak. (At least I didn’t gush.) I also told him that I often reread “Prince of Tides” just before I begin writing a new book because I love the rhythm of the story as it unfolds. He told me to never read Pat Conroy when I write, only to read John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice an Men.” I might take his advice and reread “Of Mice and Men,” but it is the Slow-Country rhythm that I love. Can’t wait to read your next novel. Have a fantastic birthday party. Wonder if Mr. Kay will give you “Of Mice and Men” for your birthday?

  • Jodie Scapellato says:

    Happy Birthday, Pat !! Thank you for the pleasures
    of each of your books. Your Southern legacy will live forever. I hope you have more stories for us……Cheers…..

  • Stan Townsend says:

    Happy Birthday, Conroy. From Welge’s knob, and the best damn class ever produced by The Citadel, 1970.

  • Leo Leffert says:

    Happy Birthday! The Lords of Discipline made me a reader. I am forever in your debt. Thank you.

  • Anita Koszyk says:

    Whenever anyone asks me who my favorite author is, I always reply, “Pat Conroy.” Happy birthday!

  • jim Misko says:

    There once was a guy named Pat
    Who came out to the river and sat.
    He scribbled and scratched
    until the birds all hatched
    And dropped their shells in his hat. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAT

  • Leonard N (Red) Camp says:

    How fortunate for us that the owners of the Cuthbert Inn informed us about “Conroy at 70″ in time for us to buy tickets and participate. I’ve loved your writing for years and to have the opportunity to meet you and hear from you, and your family and friends was a treat I will always remember. We were around through the weekend and had a wonderful time. By the way, I turned 73 this year and I drove 400 miles each way to participate and hopefully I will be back when you celebrate “Conroy at 90″

  • Bruce Floyd says:

    Sometime I’d like to talk to you about the Randals, Randy and his father, Morgan. I lived behind the Randal family in Kingstree. They left Kingstree in 1955, at the end of the school year, to move to Beaufort, where, as you know, Mr. Randal took an administrative job with the school district. You know, too, what fate had in store for Randy. You were there when the Great Shadow eclipsed the bright light of a spring afternoon.

    Bruce Floydg

  • Don Roberts says:

    Happy Birthday! I will follow you in being 70 in a few weeks. Hard to believe.
    Because of your writing I have begun visiting Beaufort every year. It is a magical place.
    Thanks for being my all time favorite author. Please hurry up and write another one.

  • Susan Hall says:

    I find reading your blog as emotional as reading one of your books. The people who respond to you are also wonderful writers, not surprising as that allows them the wonderful opportunity to appreciate you as a writer even more. You have made me want to visit Beaufort, something I should do rather easily as I live in Little River, just outside of North Myrtle Beach. Happy Belated Birthday, and many blessings to you in the coming year.

  • Allan says:

    Belated Happy Birthday Pat Conroy. God bless you and your family.

  • Jim Clark says:

    I’m reading The Death of Santini currently and could swear you made the same mistake in this blog that was made on the Rosary cards for Tom. Also, I think the subtitle should have been “The Story of a Son and His Father.” I didn’t begin writing books until I was 70 and have had a ball for nearly 16 years.

  • Edith Smoak says:

    I am numbered among the legions who love your books! So delighted to have had the pleasure of knowing you at Beaufort High. I burst with pride when I tell acquaintances that I knew you when you were a student. Your beloved Gene Norris and other outstanding faculty impacted my career as well! It was the best of times…

  • Cindy Anderson says:

    I grew up in Mt. Pleasant, SC, and fell in love with your work…first and most favorite with The Great Santini. I named our youngest and only son after Ben Meachem, your character, several years after reading it (my husband who was deployed in the Persian Gulf didnt lay eyes on him till he was 5 months old and told me to pick whatever name I wanted). I fell in love with the characters in the novel since they were so so familiar…the deeply Southern mother Lillian is so like many sweet magnolia southern mothers I grew up around in my SC hometown (my late mother, God love her, from a very old South family was more the sweet, but a touch of pepper type). I too was reared in Catholic schools with the nuns (Bishop England High School) but married a career Navy man in surface warfare so left in my late 20s. And Ben’s younger sister Mary Ann IS our oldest daughter Elizabeth personified! Like Mary Ann, she has a highly developed form of sarcastic humor she loves inflicting on her hardcore unemotional and obtuse military father to this day and also like Mary Ann it is her way of dealing with the incongruities, insecurities, and knocks of life and has become her own unique style. A fair number of men of Bull Meachem’s generation and especially in the military, I think, have that inability to share or discuss anything on an emotional level and their children have become the sad victims of their cruel withholding. Coupled with constant unreachable expectations, refusal to tolerate mistakes or give praise or approval, which their military training reinforced into their character , they inflicted emotional scars (and often physical too) that many of their children especially sons carry to their graves. And like Bull, many are/were that way because of their own fathers’ dysfunction…the sins of the father passed on from generation after generation.
    Didn’t mean to go on a psychoanalysis rant but just wanted to thank you for this amazing story and let you know how it touched me and my family. And thank you for creating Ben’s mother Lillian and giving her words which helped me express and convey the special love a mother has for her son when the time came for me to share that special sentiment he needed to hear as he left the nest. PS. One of our family’s traditions is the collection, telling, and passing on of humorous family stories…”remember the time…” whenever we are together. Lillian’s letter to her son I had planned to give our Ben on his 18th birthday as she had done. Well our Ben was being such a brat that year and in particular on his 18th birthday, I did not give him the letter! Instead I withheld it till his 21st when he had outgrown what I call his “jerk” phase. I prayed that God would bless me with a son like Lillian’s Ben (though I knew I would love him as Lillian did regardless)…and He did! It just took him alittle longer to mature! Thanks again for all your amazing stories! They are like reliving the wonderful yet complicated childhood past in a South long gone, warts and all,

  • Fleet Lentz says:

    This is a shot in the dark. I hope PC sees it.
    I “served” under Col. Conroy aka TGS.
    As a student NFO, Pensacola , ’69 we were all required to go en masse to meet Col. Conroy. Being an “L” by name I sat next to the “K”s.
    I had been through Marine OCS with Alan Kroboth who was a teammate of PC’s. TGS made him sit down at the intro. He knew him. All others had to introduce.
    I was in Nam Phong,Thai. the day Al was shot down and captured. I flew F-4′s. The published apologia PC wrote later was shown by to John Graves,a fine r writer and former Marine, WW-2.
    Godspeed PC . I read every word you pubbed.
    s/f and prayers, Fleet Lentz, Col. USMC , ret’d.

  • Sandy says:

    Ever since I was fortunate enough to discover Pat Conroy, you became my favorite author. You paint a picture with words that leaves me breathless. I still remember a line in Prince of Tides referring to a French restaurant.- “the waiters were cornstarched in arrogance.” Sometimes when I am reading one of your books, I go back and re-read the lines over and over because they are so beautifully constructed and it hits an emotional chord in me. I cherish all of your books.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • Iris Campbell says:

    You writing is so unbelievably pure and filled with the raw material that is life. God bless you as you journey on this latest trial that life has given you.

  • Gloria Rogers-Bruse says:

    Dear Pat,
    Have read, loved, and have all your books. I have a cousin in Columbia who made the effort and had you sign two of them to me at events you attended. My most valued of treasures.
    I survived breast cancer and then worked in the field for 7 years. I know how good M.D.Anderson is and am glad you have confidence in your treatment there. I hope you give us updates as your treatment progresses.
    I turned 70 two months before you. Keep trying to understand 70 years when my brain is much younger.
    I am awaiting the next novel you mentioned with great anticipation. I think of you often and send healing thoughts your way. Please take great care of yourself.
    A most devoted reader,

  • Allan Lacsamana says:

    Goodnight Mr. Pat Conroy. God bless your beautiful soul.

  • Hill Country (TX) Woman says:

    Your words filled my life with hours of happiness and wonder.

    You will be missed.

    I will listen to beach music tonight.

    May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

    p.s. When you see my daughter, give her a hug for me, will ya?

  • Hill Country Woman says:

    Thank you for your words, Mr. Conroy.

    They sustained me in times of sorrow and delighted me in times of joy.

    And now, may angels sing thee to thy rest.

    p.s. If you see my lovely daughter, please give her a hug for me, OK?

  • Elizabeth Ann Pierce says:

    Santini’s son has died. No author has ever meant so much to me, or reached so deep into my soul. And while I regret I am just now finding his blog, I am slightly comforted to read his 70th birthday post. YOU are the family poet Mr. Conroy, and we, your readers are that family.

  • arlene butler says:

    deepest sympathy to your family during this difficult time. may they remember that they were and are loved. and Mr. Conroy…..bon voyage and thank you!

  • Tania Moore says:

    I watched my favorite movie on Thursday Night (4 March 2016). I fell inlove with it back in October of 1992 while on Temporary Duty (TDY) in Aberdeen, Maryland while in the Army. Both the TDY and the movie changed the course of my life.

    God was hitting me over the head: “This movie explains your life and the lives of the people you are to help for the rest of your life. This TDY is to show you the type of people you are to help for the rest of your life!” “Coincidences,” wrote Albert Einstein, “are God’s way of staying anonymous.”

    I can’t believe Pat Conroy is gone. I guess the timing of all this is one more instance of God kicking me in the butt?

    Rest in peace, Pat. You’ve earned your time in Paradise!

  • Tina Strong says:

    Farewell, sir. Oh! How we will miss you.

  • Nancy Babcock says:

    Having just made your transition to where we all will one day be, may you instantly find the peace and happiness that was so elusive during your just-ended lifetime here on earth. You are loved by multitudes and will forever be remembered.

  • Ann Dalton says:

    Rest in Peace Pat Conway loved your writings. You made me love Charleston before I ever visited it. I was always awaiting your next book.

  • Michael McCoy says:

    Goodspeed Pat. You were loved as a man, a son, a husband, a friend and a writer. You and your work will be missed immensely. Our hearts are truly heavy.

  • Susan Allenback says:

    Rest in peace, Pat, for you have finally found it. But we were all made richer by your 70 years on earth. I am a child of the military and no one ever came closer to speaking to my heart than you did. Reach out and touch the face of God. You are home.

  • Gloria Rogers-Bruse says:

    Dear Pat,
    You have gone so quickly. It breaks my heart. Now I have to live in a world where there is no new Conroy novel to anticipate. The original books I can all reread. They are all deserving of it. Especially the two with your inscriptions to me.
    I hope your ending was peaceful, with all that love from those surrounding you. My love was there with you as well.
    I know your family pain never totally disappeared, but you had a life so well lived. And gave the rest of us masterpieces for our souls that will endure through all time.
    My tender thoughts are with Cassandra. So glad you found her.
    Always your reader,

    • Claudia says:

      It breaks my heart to read all messages that came to Pat from various venues… There will be something more from our beloved friend Pat Conroy towards the end of the year…

  • Erik Kirkhorn says:

    Thank you, Pat, for a lifetime of thoughtful observance and deep connections. It’s a sad day, but I will continue enjoying your work and somehow believing that you are somewhere among us for the rest of my days.

  • Rebecca Ray says:

    Oh so sad to learn that you are gone but thankful for your great books.

  • Rita LePage says:

    Having enjoyed every one of Pat’s books, and having always scoured bookstores for his next when I returned to Canada from my work overseas, I was saddened to hear of his passing announced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news.

    Pat was only one of three American authors I read with complete devotion and I am very sorry there will not be another. His work gave me many hours of quiet reflection.

    My most sincere condolences to his family, friends and associates.

    • Pat Conroy says:

      This is Claudia for our darling Pat Conroy… There will be some more from Pat – watch his Facebook page.

  • N Yvonne Goodwin says:

    My dearest late friend Professor and Ret. Navy Chaplain Kerry Spiers from Mobile Ala. was a great admirer and introduced me to the now passed Pat Conroy. Your works live on and the many people who loved you will never forget you either and you will be passed on forever in your words and memories and ours of your words of memories
    ( Forgive the run on sentence, editor.) . May God be Showing Pat his mansion’s door.
    Try to keep it neat till your wife arrives!!

  • Bill litzler says:

    Peace…your books made us all better

  • Donna Syed says:

    It’s my wish for you that you are surely now, “in great gratitude and an infinity of joy.” Your work was so important. Thank you.

  • Linda Clary says:

    To Pat, your family, close friends, and fans,
    I distinctly remember the first time you read to the class an assignment you had written. It was about 10 days into the school year, and we were in Gene’s English III American Lit class. The class was composed of juniors and sophomores (advanced a year in English in 8th grade), and as you read, I thought “Who is this guy? He writes really well, but I’ve never seen him before.”
    Many of us at BHS didn’t know you then, but we soon recognized you as a gifted student and skilled athlete—popular with all. We had NO idea of your home life, but you later told me that no one did except Gene. I am so grateful that you came to Beaufort, you came under Gene’s care, and all of us could later say “We knew you when…” I’m even happier that you could describe Beaufort in the prose/poetry that described it as the extraordinary place that it is, and, at the same time, tell the stories that obviously and honestly haunted you as a child/ young adult , who became a man with, apparently, no other setting that evoked enough feelings of safety, courage, and belonging to tell your stories as an adult. I have traveled a lot over this country and the world since I retired, and I don’t think I have ever visited anywhere that if I said my hometown was Beaufort, the next comment was not about you! (Even in the desolation of The Badlands of South Dakota National Park!)
    You wrote and spoke often of what Beaufort had given to you. I hope you also realized what you had given to Beaufort. I suspect you gave more than you got, and your books will live on as a testament of your fine writing and our town! As I read them, I was always working to determine who the characters, the events, and the settings were. However, that was all masked by the beautifully perceived written desriptions of our home in the intriguing, intricately crafted stories that you told.
    My thoughts and prayers are with your family and friends, as well as thanks to God that you did not have to suffer for very long. I hope you died peacefully and with the satisfaction that your experiences helped many others who have lived through similar lives. I hope, also, that you realized your tremendous impact on millions of people, not only with entertaining, intriguing books to read, but also with insight and descriptions of how to seek out those who can help us through difficult times.
    Rest now, and, think of all the good you accomplished in this increasingly hostile world where we live and how much you meant to so many! Goodbye my friend.

    • Laura says:

      Thank you for sharing. You were indeed blessed to have witnessed such a gifted young adult give that gift to do many of us bystanders.

  • Ellen Evans says:

    To his family and friends: I am so sorry for your loss. He was my favorite author, and Beach Music was the best novel I have ever read.

  • Lee Haynseorth Forbes says:

    What a shame that the new book will not be! As I told You in Savannah at the book store, your books cause me pain, laughter, shock and keep me up at night. I must have loved all the aught ’cause I finally got through South of Broad without tearing it up after putting it down five times. Such pain, such lovely passages of prose! You will always be a golden sunset in the southern sky!

  • Marie Goodson says:

    I was so sad to hear of Pat Conroy’s passing. Exactly nine days ago (the 4th) out of the blue, I asked one of my close friends with whom I share a love of reading, “I wonder what’s up with Pat Conroy? Has he published a new book yet? He’s on my mind today for some reason which is odd since obviously I don’t know him” (Although I have adored his writing for years) How strange the universe is at times. Perhaps when a writer really shares their soul and we receive that gift, a tiny thread of life attaches between writer and reader below our level of consciousness, so much so that with some, the transition of that life force out of this world can actually be sensed. On the other hand, a cynic would say “coincidence” and dismiss it with a wave of a hand. Whichever it is, I don’t like the thought of a world without Pat Conroy’s soul here, it seems a lonelier place.

  • Jim Willis says:

    I have read and own all of your books, Pat – even “The Boo.” I will now reread them all, but with a touch of sadness, knowing there will be no more. Thank you so much for your beautiful words, and enjoy your much deserved eternity of peace and happiness. Oh, how we all will miss you!

  • Elsa Van Thyn says:

    Pat Conroy, my favorite writer, just completed South of Board, again. The world has lost such a powerful voice. But his spirit lives on in his wonderful works!

  • Dawn says:

    “Few things linger longer or become more indwelling than that feeling of both completion and emptiness when a great book ends. That the book accompanies the reader forever from that day forward is part of literature’s profligate generosity.”
    ~Pat Conroy, My Reading Life

    I never met Pat Conroy, but I mourn his death. He has been a part of my reading life. His books have given me that completion and emptiness. I doubt that he intended it, but when he wrote that a great book accompanies a reader, I think not only of companionship, but of the solo of my little life, given rhythm and depth by the prose and poetry that swells beneath my days. I owe so much to the writers who have furnished my interior space, whose voices whisper what I should say. Removing books from my life would be more radical than removing the foundation from my house.

  • Diana Jewell says:

    I have just finished reading The Death of Santini, and was blown away by Pat Conroy’s honesty and brilliant writing. I recently learned of his death, and am sad to know there will be no more of his wonderful books. This is a piece I wrote here on the opposite side of the continent.
    Diana Jewell, Mission, BC Canada

    The Two Pat Conroys

    In remembering and recording my life, part of my process has been reading other people’s memoirs and biographies. When I visit our local library, I drift towards the biography section where I have found some gems which helped me to get a grip on my own story. My latest choice came because the name of the author rang a faint bell from my far-distant past: Pat Conroy’s My Reading Life. He is a Southern author whose novels were made into popular movies, and has a fabulous way with words. I would normally not be interested in someone who grew up as a military brat, so close to the American war machine; but from the first pages I was hooked. My Reading Life is a series of 15 essays on different people and books which informed his intellectual development and guided him into becoming a successful writer.

    The name, Pat Conroy, from my past was a young friend of my father’s in the early 1940s when Daddy worked at the Robson Co-Op. That Pat Conroy was the station master at the small CPR station at Brilliant which mainly serviced the enterprises of the Doukhobors and their jam factory which had stood just across the road below the station before it was burned by the radical Sons of Freedom sect who opposed the Orthodox Doukhobors. My father hauled crates of fruit from the orchards of the Independent Doukhobor farms processed at the Co-Op and delivered to the Brilliant and Nelson railroad stations to be shipped to the prairies, so it was natural they would become friends.

    In the winter of 1944 when I was four years old, Pat invited us for dinner in his quarters above the station. It was about four miles from our tiny three-room house in Robson, and there was snow on the ground. This was before we had electricity, and we lived in the soft glow of kerosene lamps. Mother dressed me warmly and Daddy pulled me most of the way on my new sleigh as we didn’t yet own a car. I remember arriving at the station, which was nestled against a mountain, and that it looked very big, besides having bright electric lights. The long staircase up to the living quarters caught my imagination, as I had never seen a staircase before. I remember playing going up and down while Pat cooked our meal in his kitchen. I also recall that the food was a bit strange and of having an upset stomach for a while and of sleeping on a couch while the adults talked after dinner.

    Pat Conroy was a bachelor. I remember his sharp features and dark hair falling over one side of his face, and his imperfect complexion. He was pleasant-looking and treated me kindly. He had contrived to send us home on the late passenger train that was heading west from Nelson and would drop us at the Castlegar station which was only about a mile’s walk from home. This was an unprecedented adventure for me; I had seen the big black steam locomotives at the Castlegar station and was petrified of their hugeness and power, with the steam shooting from underneath We climbed on board, Daddy stowing my sleigh behind the seat, and I got to sit by the window, smelling and feeling the leather upholstery of the seats. It wasn’t a long ride, and we slowed down to cross the trestle bridge which still stands today across the Columbia River before we reached Castlegar station. Looking back over my life, this was the only train trip I had experienced until the early 1970s when I visited the Soviet Union and took an overnight train from Leningrad to Petrozavodsk in Karelia.

    Back to the current Pat Conroy the writer, one of his most gripping essays for me was titled ‘The Count’, referring to Count Leo Tolstoy. Conroy reckoned that War and Peace was the greatest novel ever written, and most of the essay recounted his three readings of it at different periods of his life. He mentioned that William Faulkner thought the best-ever novel was Anna Karenina, hands down, but Conroy thought it was the second best, still keeping Tolstoy’s novels Nos. 1 and 2.

    I became engrossed in Conroy’s use of words and images. On his second reading of War and Peace in his 30s, he writes: “…I felt seized by an overwhelming urge to seek a deeper knowledge of and a mastery of my craft…I wanted to take my I could study its labyrinthine architecture to see how its great engines worked.” And later, he writes: “I tried to understand its matchlessness, the perfection of its grandeur, its intimidating lucidity, and the unsurpassable authority of its narrative power.”

    In his third reading at age 61, Conroy even tackled Tolstoy’s didactic historical detours, which most readers gloss over, racing ahead to discover the fates of the characters, but Conroy found these digressions very worthwhile this third time around.

    I could relate, as I had hurried through War and Peace in graduate school for my degree in Russian Literature, reading only a few sections in the original, since my Russian reading was painfully slow. I also noticed how different the original was from reading translations, especially in the case of Faulkner’s favourite, Anna Karenina, where in later years without the pressure of other course work, I read it from start to finish in Russian. I remember being acutely aware of this novel’s “labyrinthine architecture” and could glimpse how “its great engines worked”, which eludes a quick read in translation. I also came to appreciate Tolstoy’s mastery of dialogue and the nuances which exist in Russian which bring the story to vivid life, but which sound a bit stilted and awkward in translation.

    I also reflected on the fact that if it weren’t for The Count, my grandparents might never have come to Canada at the turn of the 20th century, and I might be toiling away on a farm in a remote Caucasus village. What did Tolstoy have to do with my fate? In the development of his own philosophy, Tolstoy took a deep interest in the non-violence stand of the persecuted Doukhobors who in 1895 burned their arms when conscripted into the Tsar’s army, declaring that killing was against their religion and against God. This was totally in tune with Tolstoy’s own beliefs and he vowed to help the Doukhobors move to Canada, where they had been accepted as prairie farmer immigrants, but lacked the funds to travel here. He dedicated the royalties of his last novel, Resurrection, to the Doukhobors, to pay their passage on the ships which brought them to their new land.

    Now I am again trying to pull the disparate parts of my life together, and develop my own recollection and writing skills into a written record of my experiences. I marvel at the circular nature of events, how the station master, Pat Conroy, who gave me my first train ride, would 70 years later trigger my choice of the author, Pat Conroy’s book about reading and writing, and how he and I held Count Leo Tolstoy in our common experience. I also reflect that I have always been frightened and intimidated by trains and other big machinery, and recall Conroy’s comment, that one of the saddest moments in literature is when Anna Karenina jumped in front of a train to end her tormented life. It shows me that if you pay attention, life comes back again and again with circular lessons to help connect the threads of a life lived.

  • John Vaughan says:

    Parris Island 1962: As an undersized eighth-grader, I was aware that there was a heroic, athletic, smart, beautiful upperclassman who was everything that I, in my painful awkwardness, yearned to be. I assume that we might’ve met at some point in the small world, though I doubt that you would’ve remembered me. By the time I entered Beaufort High in ’63, you were both a model and a memory.

    Time passes- and I follow unintentionally in your approximate path. By the mid-70′s I become aware of “Conrack” and make the connection to my own experience. I insist that my NYC friends see “The Great Santini” in hopes that they will understand me. “The Lords of Discipline” resonates, too. Even “The Prince of Tides” vaguely echoes my foray into the Big City.

    Then, in the late 80′s, I find another one of those rare indicators of me: Mary Edwards Wertsch’s “Military Brats” – with your brilliant introduction and Foreword (which still chokes me up whenever I recite your litany).

    I grieve that I never fulfilled my boyhood wish to talk with you – about so many things.

    But most of all I thank you for bringing music and form to all those shared memories that needed voice. I especially value the stories & recipes from your CookBook (which is some of your finest work). Happily, I’ve now found this source, too. Bon apetit, Pat.

  • Allan says:

    We miss you still.

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