Pat Conroy liked to write notes. Long ones, short ones, both trivial and profound. And no matter how long he’d known you, he always signed them: “Great love, Pat Conroy.” Always included his last name. I asked him about it once, thinking it odd, and he told me the following story: Years ago, he’d sent a letter to an old friend (or maybe it was an email?), and she’d sent it back to him, asking him to please include his last name, so she could show it to people as proof that she knew Pat Conroy. From then on – always, always “Pat Conroy.”
The last time I sat with Pat on his second story porch overlooking Battery Creek – his favorite writing spot – it was right before Christmas, and we were discussing his latest book. I’d been typing it for him, and he had some new pages for me in his lap, but said he wasn’t quite ready to turn them over. Wanted to read them through first . . . maybe make some edits. “But get ready to work hard after Christmas, kid,” he said.
I was headed home to Alabama the next day, and as I was preparing to leave Pat’s, he said, “Wait, I want to write a note to your parents and sisters. I haven’t seen them in a while.” (More like 20-something years. Back in the 90s, the first time I worked for Pat, he’d cooked a marvelous meal for my visiting family at his home on Fripp Island.) So, I sat there on the chilly porch for about 15 minutes, watching the sun set over Battery Creek while Pat scrawled a rather lengthy “note” to my family on his signature yellow legal paper. I was itching to get home. I had more packing to do. But he seemed intent on completing this task and the winter sunsets over Battery Creek are nothing to scoff at. He finally finished the note – which was more like a letter – I kissed him on the cheek, wished him a Merry Christmas, and hurried home to take care of business. How could I have known it was the last time I’d see him with his eyes open?
I’ve since learned that Pat was already quite sick at Christmas… that he knew something was very wrong, but didn’t know what. Looking back, I believe he wrote that note to my family because, on some level, he knew he wasn’t long for this beautiful, heartbreaking world. Even though he hadn’t seen them in over two decades, he wanted my parents to have their little bit of Conroy magic. A tangible sign of his appreciation and love. Maybe even something they could show people and say, “We know Pat Conroy.” (Though he always seemed a bit bemused by it, he understood the almost supernatural power of his celebrity, and was far too honest to pretend otherwise.) After 20-plus years, he remembered my dad had been a basketball player for Davidson and that my mom had written all the commentary in her local cookbook. (He actually mentioned Mom in his cookbook, and my daughter, Amelia Evans, makes a cameo appearance in South of Broad. He was always doing stuff like that.) Pat remembered everything about everybody he’d ever met. Always. And it made you feel so special… even loved. Imagine? To be known and loved by Pat Conroy! That’s what he gave us all. Even those who’d only met him through his words. They, too, felt known and loved.
Posted here is a little note Pat left with a stack of work I picked up from his house over a year ago. It’s the kind of note he was always leaving, and the kind of thing he said to everybody in his life, regularly. Coming from someone else, such words, so widely and wantonly distributed, might have rung hollow or insincere. From Pat Conroy, you always knew they were true. He meant it. Pat loved us – every one of us – best of all.