To say that Pat Conroy will be missed is the grandest of understatements. The world lost a true artist yesterday, but his legacy will live on in his beautiful novels.
Pat Conroy published his first book, The Boo, while he was a student at The Citadel Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina. Not long after he graduated from The Citadel, Conroy took a job teaching underprivileged children in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island off the South Carolina coast. This job only lasted a year because Conroy was fired for his unconventional teaching practices. Conroy spoke out against corporal punishment. This among other things put him at odds with the school's administration. Conroy wrote about racism and the appalling conditions his students endured in his memoir, The Water is Wide, which was published in 1972. The book won Conroy a humanitarian award from the National Education Association and was later made into the feature film Conrack.
Conroy wrote The Great Santini, which was published in 1976, and later made into a film starring Robert Duvall. The story explored the relationship between a violent father and the teenage son who struggles to win his abusive father’s approval.
Conroy’s next book, The Lords of Discipline, published in 1980, uncovered harsh military discipline, cruelty, and racism taking place within the walls of a prestigious military college. This novel drew heavily on Conroy’s years as a student at The Citadel.
In 1986, Conroy published my favorite of all his novels, The Prince of Tides, which became his most successful book. The Prince of Tides was later made into a highly successful feature film directed by and starring Barbra Streisand, as well as actor Nick Nolte, whose performance won him an Oscar nomination.
Conroy's sixth book, Beach Music, was published in 1995. Beach Music is the story of an American who moves from South Carolina to Rome to escape the painful memory of his wife's suicide.
Conroy followed Beach Music with My Losing Season,
South of Broad, The Pat Conroy Cookbook, My Reading Life, and finally The Death of Santini.
Conroy’s memoir, The Death of Santini, was published in 2013. The Death of Santini is a heart-wrenching and intimate account of Conroy’s life and his journey to forgive and eventually love his father. This memoir is best summed up by a quote from Conroy’s bestselling novel, The Prince of Tides: “In families there are no crimes beyond forgiveness.”
In the final chapter of my favorite novel, The Prince of Tides, the main character, Tom Wingo, eloquently said what I think is a fitting eulogy for Pat Conroy’s life. “I came to this moment with my family safely around me and I prayed that they would always be safe and that I would be contented with what I had. I am southern made and southern broken, Lord, but I beseech you to let me keep what I have. Lord, I am a teacher and a coach. That is all and it is enough.”
Pat Conroy was an extraordinary person and a brilliant storyteller. I offer my condolences to his family and friends. Rest In Peace, Mr. Conroy.