PATRICK SMITH –A Man Remembered

Jan 31, 14 PATRICK SMITH –A Man Remembered

 A tribute to Patrick Smith from Warren Resen, a friend

Patrick Smith left us on January 26, 2014 at the age of 87. This article is a tribute to a man who made Florida history come alive.  Patrick wanted to tell the rich history of Florida to generations unaware of what came before theme parks.  In this he has succeeded. His words will live on as long as people still read and are curious about what came before.
“Tobias MacIvey was thirty years old and had been in the Florida scrub for five years. He had come south out of Georgia in 1858. In his horse-drawn wagon there was a sack of corn and a sack of sweet potatoes, a few packets of seeds, a shotgun and a few shells, a frying pan, several pewter dishes, forks, and a cast-iron pot. There were also the tools he would need to clear the land and build a house: two chopping axes, a broadaxe , crosscut saw, auger bit, a fro and drawing knife.”
So begins the story of Tobias, his wife Emma and son Zechariah in the Florida wilderness in the mid 19th century. The book is A Land Remembered, the story of three generations of a pioneer family in Florida and a story portraying the tenacity of American pioneers: how they survived and prospered in an often hostile environment. There are those still around today in Florida who sat across the dinner table from grandparents and heard similar first-hand stories from those who where there when it happened.
This is the novel for which Patrick Smith is best known.  A Land Remembered, vividly demonstrates his keen and penetrating eye as a gifted observer of the human condition. Not a word is wasted in what many believe is the definitive story of Florida‘s emergence into modern day history. It is Patrick Smith at his best.
Patrick Smith was voted the most beloved of Florida’s contemporary writers several times by a major Florida magazine and A Land Remembered has several times been voted the most insightful book ever written about Florida and how it evolved as settlers moved south. But more than that, it is a warm, rich story about people.
Patrick Smith’s first book was published more than 60 years ago. He has nine major novels to his credit, many which tell of “the plight of the underdogs in life” according to him. His body of work has earned him honors and recognition unimaginable to most writers; three nominations for the Pulitzer Prize and multiple nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature. But in his self-effacing, “ah shucks” manner, Patrick told me, “Heck, I didn’t win none of them. I was just nominated.” At last count, Patrick Smith’s novels have been published in 48 languages around the world.
Patrick’s wife Iris was a native of Deland and they were married there in 1948. After moving to Florida permanently in 1966, Patrick‘s focus as a writer shifted to issues facing a state where the dragline and bulldozer seemed to be everywhere. Forever Island, published in 1973, and Allapattah published in 197 tell of the Seminole Indians and their struggle to cope in the modern world. Angel City, published in 1978, is the story of migrant workers in Florida and of the harsh working conditions and virtual slavery in which they were often held.
In researching material for these novels about the plight of the Seminoles, Patrick Smith lived among them down in Big Cypress and spent so much time there he said that his wife “thought I had a girlfriend stashed away down in the swamps.” For the story about migrant workers in Florida in the 1960’s, Patrick told me that, “I would go out to the camps disguised as one of the migrant workers to get material for the book. It was hard work and dangerous for me. If they ever found out what I was doing, I would have been in big trouble.”
The honors bestowed upon Patrick Smith have been many. In 1999 he was inducted into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame in Tallahassee, the highest honor that can be bestowed on any Floridian in the arts. When Patrick was presented with the statuette symbolizing this singular achievement, all this man of letters was able to utter in response was, “Wow.” He is only the second writer ever to receive this award while still living. The other one inducted while still alive was Marjorie Stoneman Douglas author of the legendary The River of Grass.
At the installation ceremony, one of the speakers related a story told to him by Patrick’s father when he had visited with the elder Smith down in Mississippi, Patrick‘s home state. Patrick‘s father told his visitor that, “He was worried about his son because all Pat wanted to do was read and write and he didn’t know how he would be able to make a living.”
The staying power of A Land Remembered, first published in 1984, is evident by its many reprints. This is possibly the most beloved book ever written about Florida. You would think A Land Remembered has brought Patrick Smith the greatest satisfaction of all his works, but during our interview he spoke most often of his earlier works, Forever Island and Angel City.
“I’ve had nine books published, but the one most everyone wants to talk to me about these days is A Land Remembered. The book was published just before Christmas 1984 and I don’t even know how many printings it has gone through. It has been published in hardcover, mass market paperback, trade paperback, a two volume Student Edition both in hardcover and paperback and now in an 11-cassette Recorded Books set.”
“One thing that has been especially gratifying to me is the hundreds of letters I’ve gotten from young people who have read A Land Remembered since the Student Edition was published and adopted by schools across the state. Many of them say that reading the book changed their lives. They told me that until they had read the book they didn’t know what the term “family values” really meant. They didn’t know about a time when people lived together, worked together without complaining, laughed together, cried together, loved together and died together, spending their lives together with the family always first. Many also said that A Land Remembered was the first book that they had read all the way through, from cover to cover.”
“I spent over two years doing research for A Land Remembered. People I meet, whose families have been in Florida for generations, keep telling me that me that the story is actually about their family. I’m sure there are many similarities, but the characters in the novel are not based on one family; they are composites of typical Florida pioneers. There are many families in this novel, all blended together to become the MacIvey family.
“Many people ask me if all those things that happened in A Land Remembered are true. Most are. They were told to me by people whose ancestors lived through them.  I got those storiesfrom people whose families lived here way back then and they swore they were true.
The story about young Sol MacIvey selling baby buzzards to tourists in Palm Beach for $25 a pop is one I entirely made up. Folks seem to really get a kick out of it. I think that the story of Sol later buying up a big piece of what was to become Miami Beach for the price of a dozen baby buzzards was appropriate in light of what was to happen down there in the 1920’s land boom when swamp land was the #1 best seller.”
“People are always asking me why A Land Remembered hasn’t been made into a movie. It has been optioned several times for a film and supposedly is under option right now.  One of my books,  Angel City was made into a feature length film in 1978 for a CBS the movie of week and changed the way migrant workers were treated in Florida and elsewhere.
“A long time ago in Mississippi, I wrote Sunday features for a big state-wide newspaper and I hadn’t been back there since they had built all those casinos and hotels. To tell you the truth, I didn’t recognize the Mississippi Gulf Coast last time I was there. When I was there before, it was just a quiet little ‘ole ride across that coast, from Mississippi and Alabama and Louisiana too. Boy, it’s all changed now. It’s just solid casinos and hotels. Florida’s pretty much the same now. Some years ago I was up in the Destin and Ft. Walton Beach area.  Areas that used to have beautiful, beautiful beaches are now nothing but solid condos. You can’t even see the beach.”
“Things have changed, and I wanted to show how Florida used to be through my books. In writing Forever Island, I wanted to give people an idea of what it was like in Florida before all the development and also show what happened to the Seminoles and how they were treated.”

Patrick Smith signing his book during a Patrick Smith Day Celebration at Forever Florida.

In December 2013, Florida’s governor traveled to Patrick Smith’s home on Merritt Island to personally present him with the “Great Floridian” award.  The governor said that, “Patrick Smith touches the hearts of readers with his tale of Florida’s history.  It is an honor to have Florida’s story told by such a talented, world-renowned author.”
After reading A Land Remembered, you can never again drive through Florida without thinking of its rich history thanks to Patrick Smith’s vivid imagery. If we take the time to listen, we discover our heritage through his stories. Patrick Smith is in the same league as Ernest Hemingway, Mark Twain, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and others who have written so insightfully of the human condition
Patrick Smith was born in Mendenhall, Mississippi October 8, 1927. He received his B.A. degree in 1947 from the University of Mississippi and an M.A. in literature in 1959. He worked in public relations for several Mississippi institutions of higher learning and wrote for local newspapers until 1966 when he moved to Florida. He was Director of Public Relations at Brevard Community College until his retirement in 1988.
The public is invited to attend a Celebration of Life for Florida author Patrick D. Smith. The celebration will be held at the Bernard Simpkins Fine Arts Center on the Cocoa campus of Eastern Florida State College, formerly known as Brevard Community College. It will be at 2:00 PM on Sunday, February 16

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