In Memorium, Pat Conroy (1945-2016): Your Mentoring Legacy Gave The World Joy and Courage


Pat Conroy’s incredible books, The Great Santini, Beach Music, Prince of Tides, and My Reading Life (among others), provided many readers with strong emotional experiences and often led readers to examine their own lives. Mr. Conroy explained it this way: “The reason I write is to explain my life to myself. I’ve also discovered that when I do, I’m explaining other people’s lives to them.”

Mr. Conroy’s own life of growing up in an unstable and abusive life provided him with considerable strength or “grit.” But one of his earliest strength-giving experiences was when he was a student in Mr. Norris’ high school English class. As Pat Conroy said, “In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.”

Another one of Pat Conroy’s mentors was the novelist James Dickey (1923-1997), his professor at the University of South Carolina. In reacting to some less than supportive reviews of his book, Prince of Tides, Mr. Conroy recalled the advice of his professor: “He told me to write everything I did with all the passion and all the power you could muster. Don’t worry about how long it takes or how long it is when you’re done. You know, he was right.”



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