Pat Conroy, whose best‐selling novels based on his family and the South Carolina coast, died of pancreatic cancer on March 4, aged 70, my own age. Shocked and saddened by this news, I realized that there was now no possibility of reconnecting with an important person in my own journey through life.
I had first come to the states from England in 1969 to work as an adviser to a program in Cambridge, Massachusetts that followed Head Start children through their first three grades of elementary school. A superintendent of schools in South Carolina was a participant.
After returning to England in 1972 when my work visa expired, I began traveling around Leicestershire, visiting small village schools to help teachers develop innovative ideas and activities for their elementary students. However, by 1975, I had decided to emigrate to the States.
I wrote to my friends and colleagues in Cambridge to let them know that I had decided to return, and asked for their help in finding a teaching position. They sent my request to the many school officials I had worked with, one of whom was the superintendent from South Carolina. He remembered my workshops and contacted Bernie Schein, to suggest that this crazy Englishman could be a good fit for the progressive, independent Paidea School in Atlanta, where Bernie was an administrator. I came over for an interview, and fell in love with the school and Atlanta. Bernie was good friends with Pat, whose two daughters, first and second graders, became my students in the fall of 1975.
I had read “The Water is Wide”, Pat’s first book about teaching black children on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, while a teacher myself in England. I had also seen the movie version, Conrack, so I was somewhat overawed to meet this provocative writer who shared a passion for teaching children. Pat invited me into his circle of friends and his family ‐‐ I even got to meet “The Great Santini” (about his father) at the book signing in Atlanta for that book. Over the next 40 years I followed Pat’s prolific and brilliant writing career and purchased each of his novels as soon as they became available. I believe I have read every book he wrote, including “The Boo” and “The Pat Conroy Cookbook”.
Beginning with “The Water is Wide”, Pat was emphatic in his condemnation of small‐minded bigots . . . and we loved him for it! While his other books are “officially” works of fiction, his novels are based on characters and experiences he knew so well from his own life and family.
When my family and I moved from Atlanta to Athens, it became more difficult to continue my personal contact with Pat but not with his writing. Every one of his books gave me more insight into what shaped this larger‐than‐life person I knew and loved. Through his books, he shared his colorful life with the world and made us feel a part of it.
My two favorites are “The Prince of Tides” and “Beach Music”. Both are influenced by Pat’s love of the South Carolina coastal islands known as the Low Country. Pat called Fripp Island the Isle of Orion in “Beach Music” and the film version of “The Prince of Tides” was shot on Fripp. My wife and I own a house just across the road from the house featured in that movie, and every time we pass it, I think of Pat and his wonderful prose that reads like poetry.
He is remembered by many on Fripp with much love, not only as an incredibly talented writer but also as a neighbor. As one resident wrote, “Pat framed my love for the low country with his words. He was a part of its essence.” For all of us on Fripp and for many around the world, Pat will always be the Prince of the Low Country.
John Olive obtained his Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from Emory University in 1985. He became an assistant professor of mathematics education at UGA in 1986, an associate professor in 1992 and full professor in 2001. John retired in July 2012, and was awarded emeritus professor status.