Open-Eyed, Laughing: In Memory of Pat Conroy

patAlthough I didn’t know Pat Conroy well at all – maybe five close encounters (including one at our house on Folly Beach) – I was, however, privy to his condition during his last days because while Pat received treatment at MUSC, I met his daughters Megan and Jessica Sunday night for a drink downtown, and they ended up staying with us Monday night at the beach before heading back to Beaufort on Tuesday where Pat passed away.

Even though I only hung with Pat a view times, I could detect the hurt beneath his quick smile and alert eyes. Like many who have suffered bleak childhoods, he viewed life through the blackest of shades and attempted to illuminate that darkness through flashes of sardonic humor. If he hadn’t been a novelist, he could have made a fortune doing stand-up. I certainly hope somebody somewhere has recorded his story about not taking Barbra Streisand’s calls because he thought she was his pal Bernie playing a practical joke.

Pat remembered and cared about you. A year and a half ago when we were visiting Megan at his house at Fripp, Pat told me that I had a good life, that teaching English was a good life. A couple of weeks ago at his house in Beaufort, the first time I’d seen him since, he again asked me about my teaching, if I had retired. He insisted on getting up as Judy and I were leaving.

He knew he was a goner but was stoic and flashed that quick smile throughout our conversation. Monday night, Megan told me that he had said good-bye to her and her sisters at ICU, and as they were leaving in tears, he added, “Damn, I’m going to be so embarrassed if I don’t die tonight.”

Bingo.

Yeats wrote in his poem “Vacillation” that he tested “everything his [own] hands [had] wrought” according to whether or not it was “suited for such men as come/ Proud, open-eyed, and laughing to the tomb.”

Pat Conroy was such a man.

May he rest in peace and the family he has left behind thrive.