Many of you have heard of the author, Pat Conroy, and even if you haven’t, this story is pretty interesting. I have read a few of his books over the years and have enjoyed them. I went to see the movie Prince of Tides, based on his book, at the theater in 1991 and really enjoyed that too. On a recent girls’ trip to Beaufort, South Carolina to visit a friend who moved there, I was re-introduced to Pat Conroy. Beaufort thinks of Pat Conroy as their son because he moved there when he was 15 and he later said, “He latched onto this town like a barnacle.” He loved the south and especially the beauty of the low country.
Before we got there, our SC girlfriend gave us a homework assaignment to watch the Prince of Tides because she wanted to show us Pat Conroy country. I got an F on the assaigment because I watched The Great Santini by mistake because I, apparently, did not read the email properly. Anyway, our friend took us on a tour of all things Pat Conroy and it was amazing. So for today, I will share with you a little of what I learned and saw on my tour including an interesting “WOW” moment.
(Photo of the beautiful low country)
Pat Conroy was an amazing author who died in 2016. He wrote 12 books, 4 of which were made into movies. His gift of writing focused on his family and the people he knew. This unfortunately caused many people to dislike him, and many family members to be disgruntled. His writing also affected people positively and one of my good friends even became a teacher, influenced by him, many years ago.
Pat grew up in a military family and moved many times and landed in Beaufort, SC while in high school. Pat’s father was a pilot in the Marines and earned the rank of Colonel. Pat’s dad nicknamed himself, “The Great Santini,” which Pat’s book was named, and based on his abusive father. Pat went to the Citadel to please his father and wrote a book based on the school called, The Lords of Discipline. The Citadel was not happy with an alumni exposing traditions and secrets meant to stay within the Citadel and they turned their back on him. Many of the graduates did too. After college graduation, he worked as a teacher at Beaufort High School and then teaching underprivileged children in Duafuskie, an isolated area which his novel, The Water is Wide is based. This is where his love of the Gullah people began.
Eventually he was back in the Citadel’s good graces as his popularity grew. The Citadel invited him to speak at the commencement speech in 2001. He accepted and during his speech, invited the graduates to his funeral. Here is part of his speech:
“I would like to invite each one of you in the class of 2001 to my funeral, and I mean that. I will not be having a good day that day. . . but I have told my wife and my heirs that I wanted the class of 2001 to have an honored place whenever my funeral takes place. And I hope as many of you will come as you possibly can because I want you to know how swift time is, and there is nothing as swift—and you know this—from the day you walked into Lesesne Gate until this day—a heartbeat, an eye blink. This is the way life is. It is the only great surprise in life.
So I’m going to tell you how to get to my funeral. You walk up. . . You find the usher waiting outside, and here’s your ticket. . . You put up your Citadel ring. Let them check for the 2001, and each one of you, I want you to say this before you enter the church at which I’m going to be buried. You tell them, “I wear the ring.”
This is just a cool story. Stay tuned…more to come.
(2001 Citadel graduates at Pat’s funeral and St. Peter’s Catholic Church where the funeral was held.)
We toured around Beaufort and learned about how many times Pat was married, three, and other interesting sites such as the house from the movie The Prince of Tides, the tree from the movie The Great Santini, and the house where Pat wrote The Boo, his first novel. (see below)
At one point, we meandered down a country road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere and ended up at the cemetery where Pat was buried. It has no signage marking the entrance. It is a small Gullah cemetery in St. Helena Island, where he wanted to be buried with the people he highly regarded. It is a serene, modest place, where people come to pay their respects with tchotchkes such as pens, hats, notes, shells, and much more.
As we are looking at all the stuff left for him, a friend reaches down and picks up something. She says, “Look, I have a ring!” She is holding a man’s class ring in her hand and trying to see where it is from. She can’t read the worn lettering on the ring so I take a look. (I had my glasses on so that was a help.) As I am deciphering the school, I say, “It says Military College of SC.” My SC friend says, “That is the Citadel!”. So, as we ponder the meaning of someone leaving their class ring at his gravesite, I decided to look if there was an engraving. As I peered on the inside of the ring, I said, “It says F.U.” There was a pregnant pause as we ponder what that meant, and then we started to laugh. That is NOT a coincidence. FU Pat Conroy! Wow! While Pat is gone, clearly people are still not happy with him.
Finally, our last stop was in downtown Beaufort at the Pat Conroy Literary Center. A small house with a bookstore and some memorabilia such as his office, his father’s military medals, and old yearbooks and letters. The one thing that caught my attention was a bulletin board of post-it notes. The one I highlighted was from his brother. It said, “Bro, Bro, Bro- I love and miss your ass.”
The trip to Beaufort was fun and beautiful. A place of lowland marshes, that the sun settles upon with magnificence. While everyone goes to Savannah, try a sidetrip to Beaufort and maybe even a Pat Conroy tour. I encourage you to pick up a book of his (maybe again) and reread his magic. Maybe even watch a movie too.
I’ll leave you with one of his quotes I like from the book, The Prince of Tides; “My wound is geography. It is also my anchorage, my port of call.”