When Pat Conroy received a letter saying he was one of this year's two inductees into the South Carolina Hall of Fame, the acclaimed author and Fripp Island resident was certain he was the subject of a prank.
"Here's exactly what I thought -- my friend Bernie Schein was playing one more practical joke on me," said Conroy, referring to a fellow author and Beaufort resident. "Bernie had been doing this to me my whole life."
Friends since high school, Conroy and Schein had good-naturedly teased and ribbed each other for decades.
If Schein could send him fake letters from former President Jimmy Carter asking him to come to the White House or from actor Robert Redford inviting him to Hollywood, surely Schein would try to make him believe he received one of the state's highest honors, Conroy thought.
But when Conroy dialed into a telephone conference call with the Hall of Fame's board of trustees, it wasn't Schein's laughter he heard on the other end. The call confirmed that Conroy indeed had been selected for inclusion.
"I was not expecting this, ever," Conroy said. "I did not know it existed. That's how surprised I was. I was thrilled."
One living and one deceased citizen are selected each year for the Hall of Fame out of 20 total nominees.
Along with Conroy, 18th century Catawba Nation chief King Hagler will be honored at the formal induction ceremony March 18 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.
Hall of Fame inductees must either be born or obtain recognition in South Carolina.
Conroy was born in Atlanta but went to high school in Beaufort, attended The Citadel and taught English in Beaufort after graduation. He later taught in a one-room schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island.
It was while Conroy was on Daufuskie that Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling spent a week with him. Keyserling took the photographs that would later appear in Conroy's first book, "The Water is Wide," about the racism and hardships to which his students were exposed.
Conroy left the Lowcountry for Atlanta after Superintendent Walter Trammell fired him because of his unconventional teaching methods. That's when he started writing full time.
The Lowcountry became a frequent backdrop for Conroy's novels, which often borrowed heavily from real-life Beaufortonians to create their rich characters.
Conroy's next novel, "The Great Santini," was published in 1976.
The most successful book of Conroy's career was "The Prince of Tides," about a dysfunctional South Carolina family.
Conroy also wrote "The Lords of Discipline" about his time at the Citadel, published in 1980, and the 1995 novel "Beach Music," set in South Carolina and Rome.
He penned non-fiction books "The Boo," published in 1970, and "My Losing Season," published in 2002.
Conroy's next novel, "South of Broad," will be out in August.