Monday, January 27, 2014

A Man Remembered

As many of you will have heard Patrick Smith, beloved Florida author, passed away Sunday Jan. 26th, at the age of 87. Unlike many authors whose works are often not appreciated until after their deaths, Mr. Smith was lucky to have been well acclaimed during his life. A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee he was also a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and the recipient of numerous awards including the "Great Floridian" award personally presented to him by Gov. Rick Scott last year. Although Mr. Smith authored many books he is best known for "A Land Remembered" which is a multi-generational story of a Florida pioneer family. I was lucky enough to have been introduced to this wonderful book many years ago in elementary school by a teacher who made it required reading. While I was already fascinated by history, the ancient Egyptians, the pilgrims, architecture etc., I was until I read that book, fairly ignorant of the history that surrounded me in my every day life. To say that this book changed my life would not be an exaggeration.
Cover of my childhood copy
Although it has been years since I read it the last time, I remember vividly the book's depictions of cattle drives, hurricanes, howling panthers, mosquitos, the state's native peoples and much more. In a true example of the fact that books can mean different things to different people, one of the things that really stuck in my mind and boosted my interest in conservation, were the book's mentions of the now extinct Carolina Parakeet. The mental image produced of  the bright blue Florida skies being filled with great flocks of brilliantly colored birds lent a tropical and exotic feel to the state that I hadn't thought of before. For those readers that aren't familiar with the story of the Carolina Parakeet, it is a sad one. Once prevalent across the United States, by 1860 the bird was rarely spotted outside of Florida. Deforestation, hunting for its plumage and to reduce its predation on southern crops led to its demise. The birds lived in huge noisy flocks, from 200 to 300 in number, and  were easy prey for anyone with a gun as when one member of the group was injured or killed the entire flock rallied around the fallen bird in a doomed attempt to save their comrade. Since modern knowledge of parrot behavior has shown us how intelligent and sensitive they are, the thought of seeing such a sight still makes me sick to my stomach to this day.
Audubon's print of the Carolina Parakeet

If you haven't read "A Land Remembered" I encourage you to do so and get better acquainted with the history of our great state. In addition to that classic, Mr. Smith wrote several other books that are equally interesting. Among them are "Forever Island", "The River is Home", and "Angel City", which was even made into a CBS movie of the week in 1980. All of these titles can be found within our Brevard County Library System.

Patrick Smith will be greatly missed and Florida's historical community will be forever grateful for his many contributions and the recognition he brought to important issues.

Thank You Patrick!!!!