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Writer Pat Conroy leads the charge to save 'The Green'

Author Pat Conroy speaks at a fundraiser Saturday night for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust. The gathering was held at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Performing Arts Center.  The trust is raising money to buy The Green, a one-acre parcel that is the last undeveloped city block in downtown Beaufort. It is located in the heart of the residential Old Point and is flanked by Laurens, West, Pinckney, and Short streets.
Author Pat Conroy speaks at a fundraiser Saturday night for the Beaufort County Open Land Trust. The gathering was held at the University of South Carolina Beaufort's Performing Arts Center. The trust is raising money to buy The Green, a one-acre parcel that is the last undeveloped city block in downtown Beaufort. It is located in the heart of the residential Old Point and is flanked by Laurens, West, Pinckney, and Short streets.

There is a scene in "The Great Santini" that author Pat Conroy's father -- upon whom the novel's title character is based -- says never happened.

In the film adaptation of Conroy's largely autobiographical novel, Ben Meechum, Conroy's fictional counterpart, finds his abusive father drunk and distraught under a tree inside a one-acre expanse of undeveloped land in Beaufort's Old Point neighborhood.

While Conroy's father insisted the scene was fiction, the place were it happened is real.

That parcel of land, known as the "The Green," brought 500 people --at $150 each -- to the auditorium at the University of South Carolina Beaufort on Saturday night to hear Conroy speak as part of a fundraiser hosted by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust. The nonprofit hosted the fundraiser as a way to raise money to purchase "The Green."

"We went to the filming of that scene," Conroy said Saturday night. "He claimed it never happened. 'My son's imagination got away from him,' Conroy's father, Donald, said at the time.

The author disagrees.

"I didn't make any of that up," Conroy said Saturday. "That was journalism."

Conroy says that, as a 23-year-old teacher with a home nearby, he found his father under that tree following a violent dispute between he and his mother.

Conroy, who now lives on Fripp Island with his wife, novelist Cassandra King, said he's been "attached to (Beaufort) like a barnacle" since arriving in the city with his family at age 15 and stressed the need to protect its natural beauty.

"Beaufort, as I have known it, is in great peril," Conroy said. "We're lucky to live in a town that everyone wants to come to. We live in a town that everyone talks about once they see it. Let us be proud ... in trying to find a way to save this sweeping place of utter majesty."

Thanks to a yearlong fundraising effort, the trust is expected to finalize its purchase of the "The Green" next month, said Ann Bluntzer, the nonprofit's executive director.

Bluntzer declined to release the cost of the property but said 50 percent of it was covered through funds from Beaufort County's Rural and Critical Lands Program, with additional money coming from the City of Beaufort and the residents of Old Point.

"It's a really cool example of a civic/neighborhood partnership," Bluntzer said. "The value of having an open city block within a highly dense area is immeasurable ... for the quality of life for the people that live in Beaufort."

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