An educational consultant and writer recalls his friendship with the late novelist.
Schein (Famous All Over Town, 2014, etc.) first met Pat Conroy (1945-2016) in early 1961 when both were students in Beaufort, South Carolina. Schein was a self-professed cheater who hated school while Conroy was the social and athletic star everyone adored. Yet both were also outsiders. Though a South Carolina native, Schein was a Jew in a majority Christian South, and Conroy was a “military brat” who, until arriving in Beaufort, had moved every year he had been in school. The pair bonded in high school and then deepened their attachment after college when they returned to Beaufort “to dodge the draft and to teach, in that order.” They soon discovered that their anti-racist beliefs and civil rights activism put them at odds with the conservative white power structure in Beaufort, including the board of education. In 1970, the year Schein went to graduate school at Harvard, Conroy lost his job as a teacher at an all-black school for daring to change a curriculum that emphasized obedience to authority rather than learning. While Schein continued his professional pursuits in education, Conroy left teaching to write. His autobiographical first novel, The Great Santini (1976), about the relationship between a son and his abusive military father, made Conroy a household name. But fame and the repressed rage he harbored against his father transformed the mild-mannered Conroy into an alcoholic “word-sniper” and “verbal hitman” who took cruel shots at everyone, including Schein. In 1990, Schein refused to publish a story in a school magazine by Conroy’s stepdaughter that discussed the sexual abuse she had endured from her birth father. Their friendship ended, but the two continued to talk “about each other all the time.” The men reconciled 15 years later and remained close until Conroy died. Honest in its portrayal of both Conroy and Schein’s own conflicted feelings toward the novelist, the lucid narrative deftly explores the complexities of a lifelong friendship.
A thoughtful, poignant, and candid memoir perfect for Conroy fans.