He wore the ring and captivated the imagination of his readers. The Lords of Discipline inspired young men and women to seek out the unique challenge of attending The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina. He turned a phrase like no one else. He packed the house each time he appeared at book festivals.
Pat Conroy died last night after a short confrontation with pancreatic cancer. The news spread across The Citadel social networks like wild fire last night.
I have to admit I did not know much about Pat Conroy before my son set his sights on attending The Citadel. Like many high school boys my son had read The Lords of Discipline and was drawn into the mystic of the military school. While after the publication of the book Pat endured ridicule and on campus and around Charleston, from my observations his book was the reason young people wanted to attend the school. Sure it was tough and the tales of the rituals He described were harsh. For the student meant to attend a military school his story spoke to their need to challenge themself in a way only a military leadership school could.
During my sons knob year an educator friend suggested I read The Water is Wide as my introduction to his writing. I was hooked. I read everything Pat Conroy wrote my son’s knob year at The Citadel. His books helped me understand why my son and so many of his friends were attracted to The Citadel and it’s culture. When I got to his book, My Losing Season, I found I had more in common with Pat than I realized. While he played college basketball for alosing team, I was a manager for a men’s college basketball team. He even wrote about people I knew from the University of Richmond, my alma mater and the nemesis of The Citadel in his book. After reading My Losing Season I was moved to write to Pat Conroy. I doubt he ever read my letter. I felt compelled to write to him. I had never written to another author, but his books and his complete vulnerability in sharing his very personal stories touched me deeply.
My first Parents Weekend in 2007 I was visiting with my son’s host family at a tailgate party. I shared with his host parents and their good friends how much I enjoyed Pat’s books. As it turned out they were friends with Pat for years. They told stories of Pat visiting them while they were serving overseas. They also told stories of his generosity and caring for the Corps of Cadets. I didn’t realize it until much later in the afternoon, but the tailgate we were attending was hosted by Mary and Greg Smith. Pat wrote about their friendship in his books.
Since 2007 I have had the opportunity to hear Pat speak at book festivals. He has signed books for me and thousands of others. I am very glad now that during an open mic Q&A at the Marcus Jewish Community Center Book Festival I gathered my courage to go to the mic in front of 2,000 people to thank Pat Conroy. At the time my son was a cadet and I was the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group, a group that started years ago through the Atlanta Citadel Club. When I started at the mic I said, “I am the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents group.” Pat interrupted me and to great laughter in the crowd said, “Oh Boy, here it comes.” I went on, “My son and many of his friends are now at The Citadel, many because they read your book. I just want to thank you.” To my surprise the crowd gathered began to applaud loudly.
I am saddened today to know of his passing. I rejoice with legions of his fans that he lived and wore the ring.