Shortly before the celebrated author, Pat Conroy, died in 2016 of pancreatic cancer, his wife promised him she would go back to writing after he was gone. Cassandra King Conroy – an award-winning author of essays, articles, and such novels as Making Waves, The Sunday Wife and Queen of Broken Hearts – did just that. She continued work on a cookbook that combined recipes with light-hearted stories associated with them, stories that reflected the Conroys’ love of food, cooking, and entertaining guests in their South Carolina home.
Such a project would be limited in scope, a therapeutic way for Cassandra to work through the grief of losing Pat, whom she married in 1998 after a three-year courtship. Instead, as work on the cookbook progressed, the “whole story” about her life with Pat “kept coming out,” she said recently. “I felt compelled to tell it.”
The cookbook gave way to a memoir: Tell Me a Story: My Life With Pat Conroy (William Morrow, 2019). Cassandra will introduce it on April 23 at the Spring Luncheon of the Friends of the Library at Pfeiffer University, for which tickets will go on sale on March 15. She will also talk about her work and that of her husband, who penned such blockbusters as The Prince of Tides, Beach Music, and The Great Santini.
Since its publication in October 2019, Tell Me a Story has been widely reviewed and read by many of Pat’s fans.
“I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from this book, as you might imagine,” Cassandra said. “Almost everyone has said that they felt they knew Pat from reading his works. They saw from my account of my time with him that he was pretty much like you would think he would be in his books.”
One of Pat’s longtime admirers emailed Cassandra that she was hesitant to read Tell Me a Story, fearing that he would not come across in the memoir as she had perceived him to be. She read the memoir anyway – and was happy to find a funny, generous, and larger-than-life personality.
A male reader of Tell Me a Story thought the book might come across as sappy. Instead, “he thought it was extremely balanced, that it showed him to be an as complex and as complicated person as you would sort of expect,” Cassandra said. “Pat was deeply wounded from the trauma of his childhood and from a lot of experiences later in life as well.”
Cassandra met Pat in 1995, at a party for a writers’ conference in Birmingham. At the time, they were at radically different points in their careers. Pat had already reached the pinnacle of the writing profession; Cassandra was about to make her debut as a novelist.
A relationship would bloom anyway. It “came about because we found we were in the same place, emotionally and in our life experiences,” Cassandra said. Both in their early 50s, they had each already raised children and were getting over failed marriages.
Pat “was in a really bad place,” Cassandra said. “Once I got to know him, he was also so much in demand, giving these talks and going from one event to another. He was emotionally and physically exhausted. Subconsciously, I think, he was looking for a safe harbor and I felt he found that in me and our relationship.”
In time, Cassandra would find a safe harbor in Pat – which, she said, “sounds very contradictory because he had had two failed marriages and a lot of failed relationships. He was not exactly material for safety or refuge of anything like that.” Cassandra’s reluctance to get involved with Pat began to weaken as she got to know him better. This meant looking under the surface of a man who came across as “this dynamo who was so intense.”
As readers of Tell Me a Story will learn, there “was a sweet, gentle person who was under that surface, under that persona,” she said.
Want to go?
What: The Friends of the Library at Pfeiffer University present Cassandra King Conroy as part of their Spring Luncheon
When: 11 a.m. April 23
Where: Keith Community Room, located on the 2nd Floor of the Stokes Student Center on Pfeiffer’s Misenheimer Campus
Cost: $35 per person. Reservations are required; go to https://community.pfeiffer.edu/folspring2020 to make reservations
Ken Keuffel, who authored this article, has served as Pfeiffer’s Assistant Director of Communications since December 2019. He welcomes story ideas from Pfeiffer’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends. The form for submitting story ideas is at www.pfeiffer.edu/newsform