Pat Conroy exhibit at Blythewood Library

Blythewood’s Doug Bridges with his Citadel teammate, novelist Pat Conroy. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – Pat Conroy was a celebrated South Carolina author with a gift for words that resonated with people, both in South Carolina and beyond.

Conroy’s friend and Citadel basketball teammate, Blythewoodian Doug Bridges, will be sharing stories about the famous writer’s life and, for the first time, exhibiting a collection of memorabilia that’s not duplicated anywhere.

Conroy, a leading figure in Southern literature during his lifetime in the latter part of the 20th century, wrote more than a dozen well-known books and received at least 25 significant literary awards in a writing career that spanned nearly half a century.

“His prose was fantastic, but that’s not what I bring,” says Bridges, who attended college with Conroy at the Citadel and later worked with him on a book about their shared experiences there, meanwhile counting him as a close family friend. “I bring the personal side.”

The event will be held Thursday, Oct. 5, from 6:30-7:45 p.m. at the library in Blythewood.

Bridges says it’s not the first time he’s given a talk about Conroy; he’s done several over the years, and they typically begin with sharing a few stories and then letting members of the audience ask questions in what he calls “open discussion format” as he aims to give them a window into who Conroy was beyond his literary fame.

He paints Conroy as a sarcastic jokester whose acclaimed works of literature reflect the suffering he experienced throughout his life, from childhood trauma and intense grief to his efforts to champion human rights in a world full of injustice.

But though he’s spoken about Conroy before, Bridges says this is the first time he’s presenting an exhibit of Pat Conroy memorabilia – a project that began somewhat by accident, as he and his wife were doing a bit of house cleaning.

“I was trying to clear my house out from all the boxes that we’ve accumulated over 48 years of marriage,” he says, “and I came to find out that about 40 percent of them had Conroy’s stuff in them that I’d saved over the years.”

He saw a request at the library for exhibits, and it clicked in his mind that he had something that other people might be interested in seeing. He first looked for existing collections of Pat Conroy memorabilia and went to look, realizing that what he had was, in fact, unique.

He’s not sure yet where the best place will be for the collection to reside in the future, but for now the retired real estate agent is thinking about taking it on the road and sharing it at additional events. He says he doesn’t want it to sit in boxes any longer.

“Rather than have it stuck in boxes,” he says, “I thought it would just be more appropriate to show it off and let people see.”

Bridges says he met Conroy at the Citadel in 1964, and they became friends and basketball teammates.

“We became very close then and found out that we had a lot of things in common,” he says, “kind of the way we grew up, many of those experiences are reflected in his books.”


Among those shared experiences was one Conroy put into words and helped to define in the public consciousness: the struggles of transient life of “military brats,” children who move frequently from place to place because of their parents’ careers in the military.

But the book that Bridges was closest to was My Losing Season, the project got its genesis from a basketball team reunion – and it brought Bridges and teammate Conroy back together as friends after several years of being out of touch.

“He went back and forth about writing it as to whether it would sell or not, and sort of the question was ‘Who’s going to want to read about a losing basketball team?’” Bridges says of My Losing Season, the book about the Citadel basketball team. “That took six years, so we were together for like six years doing the book, which was successful.”

He says Conroy was fun to be around, made a point to project positive energy, and sometimes even in downright inappropriate but hilarious ways.

“He had an incredible sarcastic humor, and it would keep me in stitches,” Bridges says. “He was always seeking humor. If he was with us, in a group or whatever, he didn’t want to be depressed; he didn’t want to be down; he wanted to be uplifting and funny, and oh my god he was funny. He could take all this brilliance and put it into jokes and sarcasm.”

Perhaps Conroy’s most famous novel was The Prince of Tides (1986). In it, the protagonist probes difficult childhood memories from his South Carolina family in an effort to help his suicidal sister come to terms with their traumatic past.

Another well-known work, The Great Santini (1976), is based on his father, a U.S. Marine Corps pilot who terrorized and abused his family.

These and two more of Conroy’s books, The Water is Wide (1972, based on his experiences teaching black students in a rural schoolhouse on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina) and The Lords of Discipline (1980, about life at the Citadel) later became movies.

Another notable book, Beach Music (1995), is about an expat living abroad who returns to the U.S. to face challenges at home. My Losing Season (2002) is about playing on the Citadel basketball team during his senior year in the mid-1960s – and this is the one that Bridges was involved in.

Bridges recalls what it was like to be his teammate and how Conroy nicknamed everyone that year – the year when the Citadel’s not-so-winning team famously defeated athletic rival Virginia Military Institute in quadruple overtime during a 1967 game.

But Conroy also took on more serious challenges during their years at the highly traditional military school, helping his first Black classmate to successfully navigate his freshman year (which he wrote about in The Boo in 1970) and, years later, expressing support for the admission of women.

He later advocated for the education of impoverished Black students when he worked as a teacher and continued to speak up about marginalized people until his death from cancer in 2016. Though he was white, he’s buried in a historic Black cemetery on St. Helena Island, South Carolina.

Bridges says he hopes to give people an idea through stories and memories of what Conroy was like – and encourage those who haven’t to read his work.

“He is from South Carolina,” Bridges says, “and he will live forever through his books.”

Blythewood Library manager Crystal Mickle organizes the exhibit of Bridges’ Conroy memorabilia. | Barbara Ball

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