So Long, Patrick F. McManus

Patrick F. McManus has been on my mind. You are aware, no doubt, that Pat went on to his well-earned reward on April 11 in Spokane, Washington. He was 84. As our very own Northwest-grown humorist, and as a man whose conversations I treasured, it somehow seems appropriate to make him the focus of this column – number 1,000 for the Ellensburg Daily Record.

Some decades ago (in the mid-1980s), I had an outdoor talk show, “The Rockies Outdoors,” on a radio station in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I also had a syndicated daily outdoor radio gig, “Inside the Outdoors,” in nine western states. I interviewed McManus for those shows, and during the next twenty-some years, we caught up a few times.

I loved talking to the guy. He was a fairly sober, contemplative fellow, with a very natural, easy, humor. I never quite knew where an interview or phone call might start – or end.

The first time I interviewed him, I organized my questions, and asked him where he wanted to start. “Well,” he said, “let’s start at the beginning. Like many people, I started life as a small child…” (I’m not sure I ever got to my questions.) “My mother was a country school teacher so from my earliest memory I was in school rooms… [S]he would put me in one of the back desks and I would sit there and color pictures and so on. …All of my early memories are of these little one room schools way off in the woods some place. We owned a small farm near Sandpoint, Idaho, but for the first seven or eight years of my life we lived in a very remote area far back in the mountains. Eventually, we lived on our farm where we had Sand Creek running through one side and I could step out the back door and go fishing or hunting in the mountains…”

McManus’ father died when he was quite young, and times were often tough on that small farm. Teenager construction work let him save enough to get through an English program at what is now Washington State University. After a stint with newspapers, he returned to WSU for work and a Master’s Degree, took a job teaching at Eastern Washington University and retired as Professor Emeritus after 23 years – a decision made when he realized he could make a living as a writer, with a little side work in television and public relations.

At some point in one of our early conversations, Patrick and I compared notes on the number of rejection slips we’d received for our early writing – and on the coaching we got from a couple renowned editors at Field and Stream Magazine. He wrote daily and sold a few things (like nature and travel stuff, and a piece on funny lookout tower stories). One day, with an hour of writing time left after completing a Sports Illustrated article, he figured “well, I’ll just write a nonsensical thing. I wrote about the use of telemetry, extended it to absurdity in which all of the animals and wildlife were hooked up with radios. I sent this off to one of the magazines – Field and Stream as a matter of fact – and an editor, Clare Conley, bought the story. I thought, ‘Gee this is a pretty easy way to make money, knocking out these quick little humor pieces!’” A dozen or so rejection slips later Clare was still encouraging him. In the late ‘60s, he finally found his humor groove, and Crazy Eddie, Rancid Crabtree, and the others (all based on real people, he claimed) began to appear.

My connection was with Ted Trueblood (also a Field and Stream editor) a regular guest on my early outdoor radio programs at KATN in Boise. He encouraged and coached me after eight or ten pink slips, and my writing got better enough that I later earned recognition from the Colorado Press Association for columns in the Douglas County News Press. Still, I moved more into broadcasting as McManus got more serious about his writing.

“I started at Field and Stream in the late ‘60s,” he said, “ and I did a monthly humor piece, at least six a year the last five years I worked there, but the regular humor columnist was Ed Zern and a column called ‘Exit Laughing.’” Patrick wrote his humor pieces for Field and Stream until about 1981, when “Clare Conley…became an editor at Outdoor Life. Clare called me up and invited me to become a regular columnist for them, with a column right on the back page of the magazine, similar to the position that Ed Zern had in Field and Stream.” Eventually, Outdoor Life fell on tight budget times, and Patrick’s back page column, “The Last Laugh,” ended with the April issue of 2009.

Our last conversation was in early ’09, as I recall. We talked a little bit about my humble efforts in Paradise and his larger world writing goals. “I could probably write humor directed toward [a] sophisticated audience, but I try to avoid that… I would much rather aim at the general population, but I am always pleased when someone from an English Department [likes my writing].”

For our continuing pleasure, Pat leaves behind a body of rich, skillful writing; that 40 years of humor columns, two dozen books (including “The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw,” “Real Ponies Don’t Go Oink!” and several darkly-humorous mystery novels), six one-man plays, and several kid stories. The work of great writers (and I would make that argument for McManus) goes ahead forever.

Thanks for sharing all the life and laughter, Patrick. RIP

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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