The phone rang behind the counter in Beaufort’s McIntosh Book Shoppe on Saturday morning, not for the first time.
“What are we doing on the Santinis?” Miles Murdaugh asked store owner Wilson McIntosh. Beaufort Bookstore, the shop across town McIntosh also owns, needed to know.
“Tell her don’t sell them all,” McIntosh replied quietly.
McIntosh had cried Saturday morning when he read the news of friend and author Pat Conroy’s death Friday of pancreatic cancer.
Conroy was a friend of independent booksellers and fellow authors, McIntosh said. In addition to book signings in his stores following new releases, Conroy would sign an additional 500 to 1,000 copies to sell in the store.
Conroy connected with each customer at a signing. McIntosh liked to sit and listen as people — many school teachers — told Conroy how his words affected them.
Stacks of Conroy paperbacks cover a folding table in McIntosh Book Shoppe, the Bay Street store McIntosh has operated since 1994. Signed copies of “The Death of Santini” and “Prince of Tides” spilled from cardboard boxes behind the counter.
“I hate to sell any of them now, because I can’t replace them,” McIntosh said.
I hate to sell any of them now, because I can’t replace them.
Beaufort bookseller Wilson McIntosh, on his signed Pat Conroy novels
At Nevermore Books, owner Lorrie Anderson protected some signed Conroy books on a small shelf behind her desk. This past October, a month after the quirky store on Carteret Street opened, Conroy strolled through signing all the copies of his books and books for which he had written forewords.
People began calling McIntosh on Saturday morning with requests. A woman asked for a signed first edition of “The Great Santini,” learned she couldn’t afford the book and settled for a regular copy.
Murdaugh brushed the weathered cover of the first edition, noting its missing dust jacket.
McIntosh and store employees didn’t know the exact inventory of their signed books, so they were cautious. At Beaufort Bookstore on Saturday afternoon, clerk Beth Gravatt took down names of those requesting signed copies of Conroy’s more popular books.
Every several weeks, Conroy would sit in the store for four hours at a time signing a mountain of his books for the store’s inventory, Gravatt said. But the author had not been by in a while.
“To just open the doors and let them all go out of panic just doesn’t seem right,” Gravatt said. She was relieved when a woman pushed a stack of cardboard children’s books onto the counter.
Okatie resident Debbie Pinckney bought an unsigned “The Water is Wide” paperback to replace a signed copy she loaned someone and never got back.
Pinckney remembers arriving to Bay Street late for a book signing when “Prince of Tides” was released in 1986. She left her car on the curb and saw Conroy behind the store’s closed doors.
“If they’ll sell it to you, I’ll sign it,” Pinckney remembers Conroy telling her.
A customer waiting outside McIntosh Book Shoppe before the store opened Saturday told Murdaugh of a chance encounter with Conroy outside the store six years earlier. The brief meeting led the person to choose a career in teaching.
McIntosh, who will turn 68 at the end of March, was a freshman at The Citadel when Conroy was a senior.
The freshman was often in trouble, McIntosh said, and instead of confinements was allowed to watch Conroy andThe Citadel’s basketball team.
McIntosh’s favorite Conroy book is “The Water is Wide,” which details Conroy’s time as a teacher on Daufuskie Island. Kathleen McTeer, youth services manager at Beaufort County Library in downtown Beaufort, said the book drove her method of interacting with students during 15 years as a school librarian.
The book’s depiction of the Lowcountry entranced McIntosh. Conroy captured scenes like no one else can, he said.
The bookseller’s treasured possession is a first edition of “The Boo,” Conroy’s first book. Conroy signed the book to McIntosh, “who wears the ring.”
The Citadel graduate, class of 1967, offered a nod to McIntosh’s class of 1970.
On Saturday, McIntosh wore a red Citadel cap and a camouflage jacket over his plaid shirt. He pulled at each end of a small piece of paper pulled from the pocket of his khaki pants while he talked.
He swiped through his email on a black iPhone until finding a photo of his last meeting with Conroy, at a Hilton Head Island book signing with author Ellen Malphrus this past December.
McIntosh remembered Conroy as easy to be around, always ready with a dig from his wicked sense of humor. Conroy sometimes invited McIntosh to his weekly gatherings at Griffin Market on Carteret Street.
The author was generous with his time, McIntosh said. Whenever Conroy learned of a restaurant customer too shy or polite to introduce themselves, Conroy invited them over to chat.
“People come to this store from all over the world,” McIntosh said. “And they all know Pat Conroy.”