By Lynn and Cele Seldon
Quite simply, beloved Pat Conroy — author of bestselling books like The Prince of Tides, South of Broad, The Water is Wide, and more — loved everything about Beaufort and the Lowcountry. He said it was the first place he could really call “home,” and it was his anchor for decades. He and his wife, novelist Cassandra King, lived on Fripp Island and in Beaufort, and Cassandra still calls Beaufort home.
As the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot (who he depicts in The Great Santini), Conroy had more than 20 addresses before moving to Beaufort in the 1960s (another move for his father's job), as he began high school. In The Great Santini, he wrote, “I’ve come home to the place I was always writing about…I’ve tried to make Beaufort, South Carolina, my own.” He most certainly accomplished that.
He said the city embraced him into her history: “She was proud to have me call her my hometown.” Pat also paid tribute to locals who helped him along the way. While attending Beaufort High, he took a creative writing course taught by novelist Ann Morse (who wrote under the name of Ann Head). Pat said she helped him develop his writing style, and every time he published a new book, he took a rose to her headstone in Beaufort's St. Helena Cemetery. Pat also credited his Beaufort High School teacher, Gene Norris, with giving him tours of the town that would go on to form the setting for several of his books.
Over the years, Pat provided his own Beaufort tours to visiting friends, including us. He would show visitors the two-story antebellum manse where Robert Duvall and Blythe Danner lived while making The Great Santini; the palm-surrounded historic home where Barbra Streisand stayed while filming The Prince of Tides; and the downtown Beaufort house on Hancock Street where he wrote The Boo, The Water is Wide, and the first chapters of The Great Santini. Pat was always eager to share what he loved about Beaufort, including an interview we did with him many years ago:
*What are some of your favorite restaurants?
Shrimp Shack, always. I also like a place out on St. Helena called The Foolish Frog. A friend of mine from high school opened it. And, I generally head to Wren’s when I’m in town.
*What’s another favorite haunt?
I love being on Bay Street with those oak trees, and the mansions are just magnificent. I think it’s one of the most beautiful sights in America. I love the sunsets there.
*How did you develop such a strong affinity for the area?
When we first crossed the bridge over the Whale Branch River, I remember saying to my mother, “My God, it’s pretty.” I’d been complaining about another move, but something just clicked and I did not know that I was looking at what would become my life’s work. I went crazy for everything. I love the town and the people. The Lowcountry and I would be tied together forever.
Pat Conroy’s legacy is alive and well in Beaufort and the rest of the Lowcountry, thanks to the Pat Conroy Literary Center, which showcases the life and writings of the Beaufort author. It was created shortly after Pat’s death in 2016 and houses a cornucopia of memorabilia from Conroy’s Lowcountry life, including yearbooks, photos of his teaching time on nearby Daufuskie Island (memorialized in The Water is Wide), The Citadel, Beaufort, and beyond, handwritten manuscripts, his writing desk, his father’s flight jacket and varied books for sale.
Beaufort Tours offers a “Pat Conroy’s Beaufort” van tour. Presented in partnership with the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the one hour and 45-minute tour includes a visit to Conroy’s former high school, home where he lived, locations connected to the filming of The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, the gravesites of his parents, and Conroy’s grave near historic Penn Center on St. Helena Island.
Also while in town exploring Pat Conroy’s Beaufort, be sure to head to local bookstores McIntosh Book Shoppe, NeverMore Books, and Beaufort Bookstore to purchase many of Conroy’s bestsellers (including many signed by the author).
Long-time travel journalists Lynn and Cele Seldon moved to Beaufort full-time in 2018, after becoming friends with Conroy and his beloved wife, Cassandra King. Pat was also Lynn’s writing mentor.