In early January 2016, the news of Pat Conroy’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis left us devastated.
As time went by, his family and friends waited for an update from his wife Cassandra King, hoping that medical science could save him.
Then Mihai, Pat’s webmaster reported his diagnosis on Pat’s Facebook page, the news had over two million reaches; even self-proclaimed atheists began praying for him. Looking back, we were all hoping for a miracle. Less than two months went by before the irreplaceable “Prince of Words” left this world. It was March 4, 2016 at about 7:43 p.m.
His family and friends had gathered around him at his Lowcountry home, which overlooks the marshes he so loved. He was seventy years old. For many who loved him, his sudden passing made the world seem unhinged.
February 15, 2016
Pat Conroy literary agents Marly Rusoff and Mihai Radulescu announce on Facebook that he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
This news is reported on ABC’s Good Morning America and picked up by news media across the county.
March 4, 2016
Marly Rusoff (Pat’s friend of 40 years and his literary agent after agent Julian Bach retired) and her partner, Mihai Radulescu, Pat’s webmaster, co-agent and friend, (whom Pat frequently addressed as “the Prince of Romania,”) met Pat’s longtime devoted editor and publisher Nan Talese and her husband, writer Gay Talese, at the airport, planning to fly together from New York to Beaufort to see Pat.
News that he was weakening had come the night before from the family. Sadly, a text from Cassandra King arrives just as they board the plane saying that Pat has passed away. Devastated, they continue on to Beaufort to be with Pat’s friends and family for the funeral, arriving at the hotel after midnight.
March 5, 2016
Family and friends gather at the Conroy home.
Mihai struggles to obtain an Internet connection from the hotel at 2:00 am and he announces Pat’s death on his Facebook page and website, resulting in about 4 million reaches. Calls from the press need to be answered as plans for the funeral commence. His death is reported on all major networks and his obituary appeared in major newspapers, from The New York Times, Walls Street Journal to newspapers everywhere.
March 6, 2016
Marly Rusoff wants to establish a Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort as a legacy for Pat.
Marly Rusoff calls Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling, whom she had met through Pat. Billy’s family was kind to Pat Conroy during his years as a young teacher and emerging author. After Pat lost his teaching position on Daufuskie Island, he began writing The Water is Wide; a portion of the book was written in the Keyserling home in Beaufort, and Billy’s photographs of Pat teaching on Daufuskie Island appeared in Life magazine as well as in the book, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1976. Marly asks Billy if he has considered how Beaufort will honor its most famous citizen, the literary immortalizer of this beautiful and unique South Carolina landscape.
While there has been talk of a statue, Marly, who founded a literary center in Minneapolis called The Loft years ago, suggested a Literary Center as a more appropriate legacy for Pat, who so often generously supported his fellow writers and who was so adored by his readers. She contended that a nonprofit arts and educational organization established to help writers, inspire readers, and honor teachers and mentors is something Pat deserves and would have wanted; Rusoff suggests they begin to search for a home for a Pat Conroy Literary Center.
March 7, 2016
Mayor Billy Keyserling offers space for Center in downtown Beaufort.
Billy offers to take Marly and Mihai on a driving tour of Beaufort to scout possible locations. Nothing seems right, but at the end of the afternoon, Billy pulls up outside a Charleston-style home off of Bay Street. With double rocking-chair porches, 308 Charles Street, in the heart of downtown Beaufort, seems perfect. It is a pre-Civil-War era historic building, filled with Lowcountry charm. It already houses a number of nonprofits including the Beaufort Film Society, and it is situated near historic Bay Street, in arguably the prettiest small town in South Carolina. When Billy says he and his brother Paul own the house and that they can make it available for the Pat Conroy Literary Center’s first home, our dream seems not only possible but inevitable. That was an unforgettable day!
March 8, 2016
Several thousand attend Pat Conroy’s Funeral at St Peter’s Catholic Church on Lady’s Island. Members of The Citadel Class of 2001 arrive to form an honor guard for the famous Citadel graduate (class of ’67) who was invited as their commencement speaker, an event that ended a long and painful estrangement, which began with the publication of The Lords of Discipline and continued through Pat’s support for the first female cadet, Shannon Faulkner. In his commencement address, Pat extended this invitation to the entire class:
“In closing, class of 2001, I cannot thank y’all enough for doing this for me. I did not exactly pencil this speech into my schedule of coming attractions, and you do me the highest honor by bringing me fully into my Citadel family. And I was trying to think of something I can do because a graduation speaker needs to speak of time—time passing. Usually, I tell graduation classes I want them to think of me on their 40th birthday, but I got something else I want to do for ya’ll because I’m so moved at what you’ve done for me. I would like to invite each one of you in the class of 2001 to my funeral, and I mean that.
I will not be having a good day that day… but I have told my wife and my heirs that I wanted the class of 2001 to have an honored place whenever my funeral takes place. And I hope as many of you will come as you possibly can because I want you to know how swift time is, and there is nothing as swift—and you know this—from the day you walked into Lesesne Gate until this day—a heartbeat, an eye blink. This is the way life is. It is the only great surprise in life.
So I’m going to tell you how to get to my funeral. You walk up. You find the usher waiting outside, and here’s your ticket… You put up your Citadel ring. Let them check for the 2001, and each one of you, I want you to say this before you enter the church at which I’m going to be buried. You tell them, “I wear the ring.”
Pat is buried in St. Helena Memorial Gardens cemetery (Ernest Drive, Saint Helena Island, SC 29920) near the historic Brick Church of the Penn Center, a decision Pat made that was facilitated by his life-long friend Roland Gardner, CEO of Beaufort Jasper Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, now a board member of the Pat Conroy Literary Center. As Pat was dying, Roland a highly respected member of Beaufort community, advocated on his behalf, which made it possible for Pat to be buried in this historic black Gullah cemetery. In a strange twist of faith Pat’s grave is a few plots away from Agnes Sherman’s who, way back, supported school superintendent Dr. Walter Trammell (Dr. Henry Piedmont named in The Water is Wide book) firing Pat from his teaching job at the two room school on Daufuskie Island.
March 9, 2016
Cassandra King Conroy and Conroy family give support for the idea of the Literary Center.
Before leaving Beaufort, Marly broaches the idea of the Center to Cassandra King and asks for her blessing and participation. As Pat’s widow and literary executor, her support is essential. She immediately embraces the idea. With her assistance, Pat’s siblings Kathy, Jim, Mike and Tim and his daughters Jessica, Melissa, Megan and Susannah also back the idea.
Cassandra King Conroy agrees to be our acting Chair and convinces Tim Conroy, Pat’s youngest brother and a poet, to be our acting executive director. Together with Mayor Billy Keyserling, Marly, Mihai, Cassandra and Tim become the Centers founders.
Marly asks former Savannah bookseller and Pat Conroy friend Esther Shaver Harnett to support the idea. Esther offers her help, as does Scott Graber, Pat’s friend, Citadel classmate and attorney.
(On July 27, 2020 Esther Shaver Harnett, after almost four years serving on the Pat Conroy Literary Center, resigns to pursue other personal matters. Our thanks for her service.)
March 10-16, 2016
Board of Directors expands.
The board of directors expands to include Pat’s eldest daughter, Jessica Conroy (each of Pat’s four daughters will serve in rotating, consecutive terms on the board), and Pat’s friends, the poet and novelist Ron Rash, and Roland Gardner, the CEO of the Beaufort-Jasper-Hampton Comprehensive Health Services, who became friends with Pat in high school when they heard Martin Luther King speak at the Penn Center; it was a friendship that continued for the rest of their lives. Esther Shaver was asked to serve as treasurer.
The first member of the Honorary Board is writer John Grisham. When news of Pat’s diagnosis went public, Grisham generously agreed to fulfill his friend Pat’s commitment to speak at the University of Nebraska in his stead. Grisham goes on to agree to become the first member of our honorary board; iconic singer, actor, and director Barbra Streisand, who became a good friend to Pat during the filming of his novel The Prince of Tides, joins us without hesitation, as does Charles Gibson of ABC’s News and Good Morning America, who came to know Pat as a friend after interviewing both Conroy and his father “The Great Santini” many times.
March 18, 2016
Legal Papers are filed for the Center to become a recognized non-profit organization.
With the guidance of Pat’s Citadel classmate, Beaufort lawyer Scott Graber and the law firm of D.C. Gilley, and with help from his associate Caitlin Reid, on March 19, 2016 Pat Conroy Literary Center is incorporated as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization after we apply to be recognized by the US Internal Revenue Service. Ann McDuff, a CPA, is brought on board.
The Pat Conroy Literary Center registers for non-profit organization status in the State of South Carolina
April 5, 2016
First Board Meeting.
The Board of Directors and Officers meet for the first time to determine a basic mission for the Pat Conroy Literary Center and to establish a timeline for launching the Center. They also set a budget and outline the Center’s priorities in the coming months.
May 1, 2016
The office of the Center is set up in Billy Keyserling’s 308 Charles Street house, which officially becomes our first home.
May – June 9th 2016
Board member Mihai Radulescu, working with content support from his partner Marly Rusoff, oversees the creation and launches the Center’s website and Facebook page.
We begin the laborious process of registering as a nonprofit across the country.
June 9, 2016
Associated Press runs story on the Center.
NEW YORK (AP) — Barbra Streisand and John Grisham are among the honorary board members for a facility dedicated to the late Pat Conroy that plans to open in the fall of 2016.
The Pat Conroy Literary Center will be based in Beaufort, South Carolina, where the author known for such novels as “The Prince of Tides” and “The Great Santini” lived for many years. His publisher, Doubleday, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the center will host readings, lectures and book groups; offer workshops and scholarships; and help facilitate other educational programs.
Conroy’s widow, author Cassandra King, and literary agent, Marly Rusoff, are leading the effort to launch the nonprofit center, www.patconroyliterarycenter.org , currently relying on private donations.
Conroy, a former English teacher in Beaufort, died earlier this year at age 70.
June 9, 2016
Mihai Radulescu begins online donor campaign on the Center’s web site. He reaches most of those who communicated with Pat Conroy over the years…
The first donation comes in at 9:22 a.m. from Nancy and Peter Larsen of Muscle Shoals, AL.
We begin receiving donations from friends, readers, teachers, other writers and Conroy fans from across the country to help fund the start-up, with the goal of raising funds to secure our home, to hire an executive director and to begin to develop programming, including classes, workshops, possible scholarships and special events.
June 14, 2016
Advisory Board is formed.
Cassandra King begins creating an advisory board. The growing list of names can be found on our website.
June 16, 2016
The Board meets at 308 Charles Street, our first home.
June 27, 2016
Jane Upshaw, Ph.D., Distinguished Chancellor Emerita of the University of South Carolina Beaufort is asked to join the Board.
July 19, 2016
We receive our Federal 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service.
July 30, 2016
In light of her extraordinary leadership ability, Jane Upshaw is named Board Chair; the Honorary Board expanded.
Jane Upshaw is named our new Chair, with Cassandra King as honorary Chair.
The Honorary Board expands to include bestselling novelist Dorothea Benton Frank; chairman of Ingram Industries, executive and philanthropist Martha R. Ingram; and from Charleston, Zoe and Judge Alexander Saunders, Sallie Duell, and Susan Ravenel, all friends of Pat Conroy, and all with experience serving on boards of nonprofit cultural institutions
August 5, 2016
Award-winning novelist and Conroy’s dear friend Janis Owens agreed to host Porch Talk, the online blog for the Pat Conroy Literary Center’s website, which will go active later in the year.
September 4, 2016
Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta is dedicated to Pat Conroy.
Cassandra King speaks about the Center at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta. The festival is dedicated to Pat Conroy’s memory.
September 15-17, 2016
Independent Booksellers Meet and Honor Conroy’s contribution.
The Southern Independent Booksellers Meeting (SIBA) honors Pat Conroy by naming all of the 2015 book awards in all categories for this year in his honor, an idea that comes from director Wanda Jewell. Booksellers meet to discuss ways to support the Center, led by bookseller and advisory board member, Vicki Crafton of Litchfield Books, Pawley Island, SC.
September 26, 2016
The board meets in Beaufort and votes to add three new Directors to the board.
They include: Valerie Sayers, Victoria Smalls and Deborah Smith. Valeria is a former student of Pat’s at Beaufort High who went on to become a renowned academic serving as a professor of Creative Writing and former department chair of English at Notre Dame. Victoria Smalls is director of development and community relations at the prestigious Penn Center on Saint Helena’s Island. Deborah Smith, the recently retired Director of the Newberry Opera House, who is highly praised for her organizational, strategic planning, and fundraising skills; she knew Pat through his support of the Opera House. (see them on the Board of Directors page)
October 20-24th, 2016
The First Annual Pat Conroy Literary Festival opens in Beaufort at USCB.
The Pat Conroy Festival takes place in Beaufort, SC. It’s sponsored by the University of South Carolina, with many of the writers Pat published on his Story River imprint of the University of South Carolina in attendance. Panels, lectures, and luncheons draw hundreds of Conroy fans from across the country.
Pat’s longtime friend Bernie Schein and his daughter Maggie Schein offer an extremely popular bus tour of Beaufort area sites important to the Pat Conroy story. Conroy’s artist daughter Melissa Conroy provides the Center with a hand drawn map of important Conroy locations so tourists can experience the tour Pat often conducted for friends who came to visit his beloved Lowcountry. Many attendees privately visit Pat’s gravesite on Saint Helena’s Island.
October 21, 2016
The Pat Conroy Literary Center opens its doors to the Public.
Hundreds gathered for the “Soft” opening of the Pat Conroy Literary Center and first public gathering at our home in the historic house located at 308 Charles Street, beautifully prepared for by volunteers Maura Connelly, Patricia Denkler, Kathy Harvey, Esther Shaver, Will Balk and Sean Henrickson. Supporters travel from as far away as California to be with us.
Mihai Radulescu welcomes the crowd and introduces Rev. John Coffey who blesses the house. Cassandra King then speaks about the mission of the Center. Many go inside to view the two-room exhibit of Conroy materials from the USC Libraries’ Conroy Archive and family collections, including Pat Conroy’s writing desk, the flight jacket of his father (“the Great Santini”), and miscellaneous letters, papers, and photographs. Pat’s brother Tim and sister Kathy Harvey worked closely with the Pat Conroy archivist Jessica Crouch of the University of South Carolina in putting together the exhibit which promises to be the first of many. Local businesses generously donate services, from food and wine, to flowers and banners. Student volunteers from the Technical College of the Lowcountry under the guidance of Advisory Board Sean Henrickson, help make the evening a huge success.
October 22, 2016
Jonathan Haupt is named as first Executive Director.
The first annual Pat Conroy Festival ends with an auditorium full of people eager to hear about plans for the Center’s future from Cassandra King, who recognized the twenty members of the advisory board and introduced the dozen members of the board of directors who gathered on stage for Chair Jane Upshaw’s special announcement. The crowd cheers at the news that The Pat Conroy Literary Center has hired our first executive director, Pat’s partner in Story River Press imprint and his friend, Jonathan Haupt.
Haupt’s directorship at USC Press has been defined by a consistent commitment to serving the interests of writers and readers in and beyond the South. In Upshaw’s introduction, she says, “In our discussions of what the Center needed, we wanted someone with experience in literary arts leadership—a person who was creative and innovative with programming, marketing, and communication. We needed a builder who dreamed big but could translate those dreams into reality. We hoped to find someone who knew Pat personally and understood the magnitude of the opportunity of the Center. It was a daunting task, but I am very happy to share with you this evening that we have found just the right person with all of those qualities in Jonathan Haupt.” The audience is clearly enthusiastic and gives Jonathan a rousing standing ovation. He will begin on December 1, 2016.
October 24-29th, 2016
Independent Booksellers across the country, led by Wanda Jewell, Executive Director of SIBA, and bookseller Vicki Crafton of Pawley’s Island Books, participate in Pat Conroy Week fundraising promotions for the Center, distributing brochures, along with in-store displays, online events and creative promotions to help raise money in support of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
October 25, 2016
Nan A. Talese Doubleday publishes Pat’s A LOWCOUNTRY HEART: Reflections on the Writing Life, a book of miscellaneous speeches, essays, and letters by Conroy, with an introduction by Cassandra King.
October 26, 2016
Pat Conroy’s Birthdate is declared National PAT CONROY DAY by Random House.
Social media campaign raises additional funds for the Center.
Cassandra King appears at fundraiser for the Center hosted by Jake Reiss of The Alabama Booksmith in Birmingham, Al. A copy of A Lowcountry Heart signed by honorary board member Barbra Streisand is sold at auction for $2,250.
Establishing and Consolidation
This part just started – a much needed update to the Center history coming soon…
Our Vision and an Invitation
The tale of the incipient Pat Conroy Literary Center is still evolving. The Center officially opened in 2017 as a place to support local writers, students, readers and book groups, as well as mentors and teachers, and it is set to grow into an important cultural and educational nonprofit, as well as a destination that will attract writers and readers from across the United States eager to share in the love of reading and writing and to experience Pat Conroy’s wonderful written words in the Lowcountry setting that inspired him.
The Pat Conroy Literary Center is a place long on hope, and rich in its implications for Pat Conroy’s legacy. We invite all of you to join us in making this history.