Pat Conroy died on Friday, March 4, leaving behind many thousands of readers who revered the passionate writing of the stories of his life, his family, and the places he knew, cheiefly coastal South Carolina and the Citadel, where he went to school. Pat visited Oxford and Square Books a number of times in conjuction with the publication of several of his books and those by his wife, Cassandra King Conroy, when he would drive her around and do his best to hold his gregarious and exuberant personality in check so as not to outshine Cassandra.
We invited him to the Book Conference in 1995, when Beach Music was scheduled to come out. The book was delayed until July, but Pat came anyway. We hoped he might be on a panel that would include his famous editor, the very gracious Nan Talese, and we ended up with one of the most unforgettable events in Book Conference history. The panel included not only Nan, but also Marly Rusoff, the book's publicity agent; Julian Bach, Pat's literary agent; Eugene Norris, Pat's influential high school English teacher; and the dark force and principal character of The Great Santini and of Pat's life, his father, Donald Conroy.
It was at this event in Fulton Chapel that Pat referred to Oxford as "the Vatican City of Southern letters," and later shocked everyone with news that he claimed made him "happy" -- that his father had terminal cancer -- causing the audience to gasp quite audilby. Pat's last appearance in Oxford, in 2013, was staged as a return to Fulton Chapel, with The Death of Santini, something of reconciliation with his father. He also came to Square Books in November of 2002 with My Losing Season, a tale of his basketball team at the Citadel, and with My Reading Life in November, 2010. I first met Pat and heard him speak at a national bookseller convention held in New Orleans in 1986, just prior to the publication of The Prince of Tides. He spoke at a large breakfast -- maybe 1,500 booksellers were in attendance -- and mesmerized the audience, which was a major part of how that novel became a bestseller. He did the same with his audiences at Square Books and in Fulton Chapel. There are many people in Oxford, Mississippi, who loved Pat Conroy and his books, which will be read for years to come. -RH (photo credit to Bruce Newman and The Oxford Eagle)