What Elise Wrote-Vale Pat Conroy

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Novelist Pat Conroy, who announced last month that he was suffering from pancreatic cancer, has died, according to a statement from his publisher. Conroy was 70.

He announced his diagnosis on Facebook almost three weeks ago, saying “I intend to fight it hard.”

Today’s statement from Todd Doughty, executive director of publicity at Doubleday included comments from Conroy’s wife and his longtime editor:

“Conroy passed away this evening at his home in Beaufort, S.C., surrounded by family and loved ones. ‘The water is wide and he has now passed over,’ said his wife, novelist Cassandra Conroy. Funeral arrangements are currently being made at this time.
” ‘Pat has been my beloved friend and author for 35 years, spanning his career from The Prince Of Tides to today,’ said his longtime editor and publisher, Nan A. Talese of Doubleday. ‘He will be cherished as one of America’s favorite and bestselling writers, and I will miss him terribly,’ Talese said.

Conroy wrote from his own experiences, as a child of a violent father. Like his Prince of Tides protagonist, Pat Conroy found grappled with his own conflicted sense of identity, particulary as a Southener.

“I’m a military brat. My father was a Marine Corps fighter pilot from Chicago, Ill. I did not live in Southern towns, I lived on bases. I was a Roman Catholic, which is the strangest thing you can be in the South. Not only that, I married a Jewish woman from Bensonhurst. So when people refer to me as a Southerner … I liked it because I never had a home. It was the first name that was ever associated with me that put me in a place.”

On Facebook recently he wrote:

“I celebrated my 70th birthday in October and realized that I’ve spent my whole writing life trying to find out who I am and I don’t believe I’ve even come close. It was in Beaufort in sight of a river’s sinuous turn, and the movements of its dolphin-proud tides that I began to discover myself and where my life began at fifteen.”

A friend of Conroy’s, political cartoonist Doug Marlette, died in a car accident in July 2007. Conroy and Joe Klein eulogized Marlette at the funeral. There were 10 eulogists in all, and Conroy called Marlette his best friend, and said: “The first person to cry, when he heard about Doug’s death, was God”. The same words could be said for Pat Conroy.

Conroy lived in Beaufort with wife Cassandra until his death. In 2007, he commented that she was a much happier writer than he was: “I’ll hear her cackle with laughter at some funny line she’s written. I’ve never cackled with laughter at a single line I’ve ever written. None of it has given me pleasure. She writes with pleasure and joy, and I sit there in gloom and darkness.”

I came to Pat’s writing late in life and have not read all his novels.  I’m sure when I do I will find gold in them.

The world has lost a gifted writer and a man of grace.

“To describe our growing up in the lowcountry of South Carolina,” his alter-ego narrator wrote in “The Prince of Tides,” “I would have to take you to the marsh on a spring day, flush the great blue heron from its silent occupation. Scatter marsh hens as we sink to our knees in mud, open you an oyster with a pocketknife and feed it to you from the shell and say, ‘There. That taste. That’s the taste of my childhood.’ I would say, ‘Breathe deeply,’ and you would breathe and remember that smell for the rest of your life, the bold, fecund aroma of the tidal marsh, exquisite and sensual, the smell of the South in heat, a smell like new milk, semen and spilled wine, all perfumed with seawater.”

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Filed under Elise McCune, What Elise Wrote

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