Herman Gaither and Pat Conroy were both in the Beaufort County School system at the same time during the late 1960s.
Gaither and his wife, Ramona, taught at Robert Smalls High School, and Conroy was down on Daufuskie Island. They learned by listening to the stories of Conroy’s teacher, Gene Norris.
The Gaithers were among hundreds to pay respects at a visitation for Pat Conroy’s family and friends Monday at Anderson Funeral Home in Beaufort. The author died Friday at his Beaufort home at age 70, several weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
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“There are so many Pat stories — he was just a really good guy,” said Herman Gaither, who retired as Beaufort County schools superintendent in 2005. “The kind of relationship he had with the total community, especially the Afro-American community, was just exceptional.”
There are so many Pat stories — he was just a really good guy
Herman Gaither, retired Beaufort County schools superintendent
A funeral Mass for Conroy will be held at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Lady’s Island at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Funeral director and manager Carla Anderson-Smith said those attending should be considerate of the family’s request for a private interment and allow them to leave for the cemetery uninterrupted after the service.
The 1,200-seat church has held standing-room only funerals in the past, she said, though it’s likely some attendees will need to gather outside.
More than 100 cars filled the grassy lot next to the funeral home for visitation Monday.
There were The Citadel roommates and educators, writers and former students. And there were those who came to Beaufort because of Conroy’s books and found a personal connection with the author.
That’s how photographer Karen Peluso and her husband began vacationing on Fripp Island in 1999. Among the first people her husband encountered on the island was Conroy at the store.
“Who can we blame this great weather on?” Conroy asked him.
Peluso remembers Conroy’s patience at book signings and for sending her husband a complimentary letter about a poem he had written.
“He was larger than life and more generous than anyone needs to be,” Peluso said.
License tags in the parking lot Monday identified visitors from Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania.
Johnny Mixon drove down from Summerville. Conroy taught and coached him at Beaufort High School, Mixon said.
Mixon later enjoyed trying to match the characters in Conroy’s books to local figures.
Bill Sharpe, a longtime news anchor with Live 5 News in Charleston, also made the trip down. He had interviewed Conroy on multiple occasions.
And one year, before Sharpe’s mother died in 2009, Conroy had called her to wish a happy birthday.
“I know Pat from his books,” Sharpe said. “The few times I’ve met him — in spite of him being an international celebrity — he’s so down to earth and so nice and decent.”
“So we’re coming to pay our respects.”