A Tribute to Pat Conroy
by Donne Paine
“To describe our growing up in the low country of South Carolina,” his alter-ego narrator wrote in “The Prince of Tides,” “I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation. Scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, ‘There. That taste. That’s the taste of my childhood.’ I would say, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater.”
Pat Conroy, whose tortured family life and the scenic marshlands of coastal South Carolina served as unending sources of inspiration for his fiction, notably the novels The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline and The Prince of Tides, died on Friday, March 4th. He was 70 years old.
Because of his father’s career as a Marine Corps pilot, the family moved constantly, and Pat attended 11 schools in 12 years. His English teacher at Beaufort (SC) High School encouraged him to be a writer. Conroy returned to the school as an English teacher himself. He also taught for a year at a two-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, off the Hilton Head Island, South Carolina coast.
His father pressured him to accept a scholarship to the Citadel, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1967.
[speaking of his wife, author Cassandra King] "I’ll hear her cackle with laughter at some funny line she’s written. I’ve never cackled with laughter at a single line I’ve ever written. None of it has given me pleasure. She writes with pleasure and joy, and I sit there in gloom and darkness."
[Talking to his mother on her death bed] "Oh, Mama, oh, mother of mine, you who opened up the universe for me with all the stuff of language, I’ll make you so beautiful. Because you made me a writer and presented me the tongues and a passion for language, I can lift you off that bed, banish the cancer from your cells forever."
It is an honor to celebrate Pat Conroy’s life, a man with great talent, which he so generously shared, and his contribution to films: On April 10, Second Sunday Film Series will be showing two films based on Pat Conroy novels at Coligny Theater: Conrack and The Great Santini. Proceeds go to Habitat for Humanity.
CONRACK 1974 PG
Based on Conroy’s novel The Water is Wide
Jon Voight, Paul Winfield
Directed by Martin Ritt (Script collaboration Pat Conroy)
A young, white teacher is assigned to an isolated island off the coast of South Carolina populated mostly by poor black families. He finds that the basically illiterate, neglected children there know so little of the world outside their island that they have virtually developed their own language (“Conrack” is their way of saying his name, Conroy) and, in fact, don’t have much interest in learning about anything outside the island. Conroy, a free thinking man, decides to expose his students not only to the academic subjects, but also to the gamut of life skills from brushing one’s teeth to human anatomy, and some of the fun things in life like classical music, art, baseball, movies, and swimming. He does so with compassion and without being patronizing.
The Great Santini 1979 PG
Based on Conroy’s novel The Great Santini
Robert Duvall, Blythe Danner
Directed by Lewis John Carlino
(Script collaboration Pat Conroy)
A warrior without a war, Lt. Col. Wilbur “Bull” Meechum, a pilot also known as “The Great Santini” to his fellow Marines, moves his family to the military base in Beaufort, South Carolina, in peacetime 1962. His wife Lillian is loyal and docile, tolerant of Meechum’s temper and drinking. Their teenaged kids, Ben and Mary Anne are accustomed to his stern discipline and behave accordingly, while adapting to their new town and school. This American drama was well received by critics and beautifully photographed with familiar scenes around Beaufort County.
Sources: www.variety.com; www.imdb.com