Pat Conroy

During my years living in Atlanta, I was lucky to know Pat Conroy. I first met him not long after opening the Proof of the Pudding takeout store in 1979.  At the time, Pat lived in neighboring Ansley Park in a tiny, basement level apartment and would show up regularly to buy our homemade croissant.  He often sat at one of the few cafe tables in the front of the shop with his coffee and wrote. He wasn’t well known then, having published The Water is Wide a just few years before. I suspect that the outing for croissant was a rare luxury.

All that began to change with the publication of The Great SantiniPat had a celebratory party at his apartment and Buck and I were included. He was signing books, of course and we purchased one and had him sign it. Before we could move out of the line, we were suddenly face to face with “Santini” himself, Donald Conroy. He offered to sign our book, too and of course, why not?

The inscription reads, “I should have been tougher on my oldest son. -Col. Donald Patrick Conroy, USMC, Retired, ‘Santini’ ”  

I still have the book and having read it am still amazed that Pat had first, invited his dad to the party, and then so generously let him play a starring role. In light of the abusive relationship with his dad, it was both poignant and puzzling because I didn’t know him very well at the time. 

Some time later, Pat walked into my store and while I filled his order, he asked me how I was. I said, “Great.” He studied me a moment and then asked. “How come whenever I come in here and ask you how you are, you always say, ‘Great?’ Surely your life isn’t great all the time.”  I laughed and answered, “Pat, I have lots of things in my life that aren’t great. But if I tell you about them, I might end up in one of your books!”  He roared and nodded knowingly. 

Pat was funny, sweet, generous, and totally crazy sometimes.  But my fondest memory was when Pat dropped into my shop one Saturday. He was quite successful by then and obviously making some money with his writing and film contracts. He waited until there was no one else around and then told me that the daughter of a dear friend and fellow novelist was getting married in a couple of weeks, a simple informal affair at a home north of Atlanta. He wanted to do something for them. Pat then proceeded to pull our his checkbook, and in a somewhat embarrassed way, handed me a blank signed check. “See what they would like for the reception and let me know what the total is.”  I was touched and flabbergasted. 

Since Pat’s death, I have read other such accounts of his generosity, especially toward other writers.  I can’t help but reflect on his kindness in the face of his own traumas and struggles.  Or more likely, it was because of his own traumas and struggles. His books are a legacy, larger than life tales written by a man who lived life large. But if I had been able to say one thing to him before he died, I would have said that he was not loved just because of the books he wrote, but because of his kindness, vulnerability and fully realized humanity, warts and all, and his humor in the face of it all. 

Dayenu! You were more than enough dear, Pat.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. John Haber's avatar
    John Haber
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    Lovely remembrance, Kay. Thanks for sharing.

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