Pat Conroy found a home in Beaufort.
But he also found a voice. His writing was so strong and polished, the voice of his pen will not be silenced by his untimely death Friday evening at home after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.
Millions of fans worldwide will continue to devour the 11 titles — from “The Boo” to “The Death of Santini” — that captured both the beauty and flaws of this world.
We hope that one legacy of his literature will be wider acceptance of the fact that mental illness should have no more stigma than a broken arm. It is not a shame, it is a fact. And the same can be said of dysfunctional families. We hope Conroy opened eyes to a more honest acceptance that most families, if not all, have problems.
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We hope his legacy is an understanding by society that military families face greater strains than most, and we need to address it honestly for those in uniform and veterans.
But let the world at-large have all that.
We here in Beaufort County should find our own Conroy legacies. We should examine what made the Beaufort High School that Conroy found in 1961 as a junior so successful. How could this small public school in an out-of-the-way place possibly have what it took to see his talent, nurture it, expand his world, and challenge him and his stellar classmates? How did the community at-large give such deep roots to a child making his 23rd move?
As a community, we are indebted to the University of South Carolina Press for seeing our local legacy and organizing a celebration last October of Conroy’s 70th birthday and his career.
We also thank USC Press for publishing two books last year to document the life of our gifted neighbor: “Understanding Pat Conroy” by Catherine Seltzer, and “Conversations with the Conroys: Interviews with Pat Conroy and His Family” edited by Walter Edgar.
Here at home, we think Conroy’s legacy will be in the giving he did and the redemption he found in his latter years. His legacy could well be the Story River Books imprint of the USC Press, named for one of our beautiful streams.
Jonathan Haupt, USC Press director, said this new option for promising writers shows Conroy coming full circle. He was nurturing new talent, just as teachers like Gene Norris nurtured him half a century ago.
“Story River Books imprint became a way for Pat to mentor writers not only in the craft of writing but in the art of authorship itself, in his gracious, generous model of what a writer, what any artist, really, can mean to a community,” Haupt said.
Conroy volunteered to be the editor and book promoter, and he dove into it headlong. In less than three years, Story River published 15 Southern novels and story collections.
“He recognized in each a set of deeply-felt beliefs that he shared and advocated for every day of his writing life: that story matters, that narrative can change lives as well as chronicle them, that the best fiction was a way to tell the truest of truths in a way that opens up hearts and minds.”
That princely voice should live on in Beaufort County.