Carolina Characters

Mourning loss of Pat Conroy and his ‘good writing’

Pat Conroy, whose best-selling novels drew from his own sometimes painful experiences and evoked vistas of the South Carolina coast and its people, died March 4 at his home in Beaufort surrounded by family and loved ones.
Pat Conroy, whose best-selling novels drew from his own sometimes painful experiences and evoked vistas of the South Carolina coast and its people, died March 4 at his home in Beaufort surrounded by family and loved ones. AP

I'm not sure if you can judge an author by the number of books that have become movies, but if you can, Pat Conroy, who died last week at age 70, was one great writer.

You can start with “The Lords of Discipline,” about the harsh treatment and racism he witnessed as a cadet at the Citadel.

Then there's “The Water is Wide,” which became “Conrack” on the screen. He wrote the book after spending a year teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island.

His greatest successes were “The Great Santini” about his relationship with his strict disciplinarian father, a Marine pilot, and “The Prince of Tides,” which established him, a biographer wrote, “as a master story-teller and a poetic and gifted prose stylist.”

For my wife and I, Conroy always has had a warm spot in our hearts. He was a South Carolinian and, more than that, a Lowcountry South Carolinian. He lived, at the end, on Lady's Island in Beaufort, a place notable for its live oaks and Spanish moss.

Most of his books took place somewhere between Beaufort (“The Water is Wide” and “The Great Santini”) and Charleston (“The Lords of Discipline” and “South of Broad.”)

Conroy was like a neighbor. We have property in Beaufort and we visit there often; we've also visited Daufuskie; and we live just down the road from Charleston. And we both love the Lowcountry in the same way Pat Conroy did.

We never had him for a book signing at our bookstore in North Myrtle Beach, mainly, I guess, because he never published a book in the years we were booksellers.

We did meet him, though, at a some special event in Myrtle Beach. He made the rounds to say hello to everyone in attendance -- a very Pat Conroy thing to do.

And I do own a book that he signed, “The Great Santini.”

It was an anniversary gift from my wife and the inscription read: “To Bob, a writer who admires good writing.”

Wow, I thought. Pat Conroy called me “a writer.” Even I don't call me a writer.

Turned out my joy was short-lived. Elaine told me later she had suggested the wording. So it goes.

As a journalist, my personal favorite among Conroy's books was “My Losing Season,” about his basketball days at the Citadel. He was a point guard, as was I in high school, and I identified with his story as a bit of a misfit.

He died way too early, of course, and his death is a loss not just to South Carolina but to fans of “good writing” everywhere.

Contact Bob Bestler at bestler6@tds.net.

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