The passing of Pat Conroy was a very sad day for the human race. It was a particularly great loss for those of us who knew him personally.
When Pat came into Beaufort in 1960 as a fragile, insecure 15-year-old, it was obvious here was an energetic, bright kid with big, sparkling blue eyes, round Irish face, and jaunty gate.
He could not have landed in a more accepting, warm, and embracing place. This was particularly true of his first public school experience after years of rigid schooling.
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At Beaufort High School, where I was the principal at the time, he found a student body vastly different from his previous schools.
In the 1960s, the makeup of our student body was 20 to 30 percent military “dependents,” but the majority were children of civilians. There were children of generals, corporals, fishermen, mechanics, fighter pilots, pastors, and merchants. But when these kids walked through the doors of Beaufort High, they were a team that worked to better their school and they fully supported one another.
Each one of those kids embraced and supported one another. Pat found himself a part of this warm and accepting student group. In fact, after one year at Beaufort High, he was elected president of the senior class.
Equally important to making Pat and every student feel worthy and indeed important was an outstanding group of teachers and staff.
Pat, and every other student, could walk down the Social Studies wing of the school and find Grace Dennis or Marty Moseley; down the English wing and find Gene Norris or Millen Ellis; down the Science wing and find Walt Gnann or Dutchin Harden or Katherine Kroeg; and the north wing or Guidance Department to find Cile Gray. The one place Pat could find quiet reflection was the school libary with Eileen Hunter.
To a person, the team members were truly honorable people.
The combination of great students and great teachers, and the best school secretary — Norma Duncan — helped Pat land in what he must have found to be the place he needed to be for that period of his life. At least, he had 10 hours a day for five days every week at peace.
It is difficult to find words to describe the real Beaufort High School of the early ’60s. No one who was a part of those days will deny the great feeling of those years.
And I know that our best known former student of those years — Pat Conroy — would be the one who confirms the great landing and anchor place for his formative years of 1960-62.
May Pat rest in peace.
Dr. William E. “Bill” Dufford of Columbia is a retired educator whose career was honored in 2014 with a Governor’s Award in the Humanities.