Pat Conroy's eulogy to Lt. Col. Thomas Nugent Courvoisie
[@tb]Author and Citadel alumnus Pat Conroy, Class of 1967, delivered this eulogy at Lt. Col. Thomas Nugent Courvoisie's funeral May 3, 2006, in Summerall Chapel.[@te]
|Author and 1967 Citadel grad Pat Conroy.|
Today we gather together, in great joy and sorrow, to bid farewell to one of the most famous Citadel graduates who ever lived, Col. Thomas Nugent Courvoisie whose last name was a French cognac, but who claimed his whole life he was pure Irish. Because Citadel cadets cannot pronounce any French products, they nicknamed him 'The Boo.' Because The Boo could not remember any cadet's name, he referred to us as bubba, lambs and bums. It was a wonderful, distinguishing moment in a cadet's life to be called a bum by The Boo. It was a moment of arrival, a rite of passage, and the stamping of a visa attesting to the fact you were an official member of that strange, bright country we call The Citadel.
Here is what The Boo loved more than The Citadel - nothing, nothing on this Earth. The sun rose on Lesesne Gate and it set on the marshes of the Ashley River and its main job was to keep the parade grounds green. He once told me that a cadet was nothing but a bum, like you, Conroy. But a Corps of Cadetswas the most beautiful thing in the world. In World War II, he led an artillery unit during the Battle of the Bulge and he once told me, 'The Germans hated to see me and my boys catch em in the open.' It is my own personal belief that The Boo's own voice was more frightening to the Germans than the artillery fire he was directing toward them.
The voice. There has never been a louder, gruffer, more stentorian or commanding voice ever to stir the airwaves of this campus. I speak now of The Boo in his prime, striding this campus like a colossus, all-powerful and omnipresent with his flashing, hawk-like glance that took in everything his purposeful and menacing stalk and that intimidating voice that seemed five times as loud as God's. I once saw him shout out the words, 'Halt, Bubba' on the steps of the Summerall Chapel. Coming out of the library, I halted on the third step and prayed he wasn't yelling at me. But the amazing thing was that the entire campus had halted, every cadet stood frozen in place like wildebeests on the Serengeti plains after a lion's roar. Cadets stood at perfect attention, in perfect stillness some walking into Mark Clark Hall, toward First Battalion, toward the field house, into Bond Hall and all the way to the toolshed. The Boo then charged across the parade ground, stopped a kid entering into Second Battalion and burnt him for his personal appearance. The cadet's shoeshine particularly offended The Boo, although as I approached the chapel I could not even tell the kid had feet. I heard every word of the cadet's bawling out and I was a hundred yards away. You have never been blessed out or bawled out or chewed out unless you got it from The Boo in his prime. Did I say he was five times louder than God? I'm sorry if that sounds sacrilegious and it certainly is not true. The Boo was at least ten times louder than God and I was scared of him my entire cadet career.
But he prowled this campus like a dark angel of discipline, and this guy was everywhere. He would be there before reveille in any of the four barracks catching seniors late to formation. He was all over the mess hall, wandered the stands during football games, roamed the barracks during parades. During evening study period, he patrolled the barracks breaking up card games, confiscating televisions and writing up cadets out of uniform.
Four times, he recommended my expulsion from The Citadel. Once I found my name on the DL list for 'Insulting Assistant Commandant's Wife.' My Tac officer recommended I be kicked out of school. I ran to The Boo's office and demanded an explanation. 'You stopped to talk to my wife about books on the parade ground.'
'She stopped me, Colonel,' I said.
'I noticed your brass was smudged, your shoes unshined and your shirt tuck a disgrace. I considered it an insult to my wife.'
'I am a senior private, Colonel. That's how I'm supposed to look,' I said. The Boo roared with laughter.
Earlier, The Boo had pulled me for 'bringing disgrace, shame and dishonor to The Citadel.' The same Tac wanted me expelled from The Citadel. When I confronted The Boo again, he explained that I had played such a lousy basketball game against Furman that he thought I had brought disgrace and shame to The Citadel. Then again, the laughter.
The reason The Boo became the most beloved and honored figured on The Citadel campus and why his legend has continued is because of his sense of honor, his sense of justice and his sense of humor. And here is what a Citadel Corps of Cadets can do better than any other group alive: it can tell you who loves them, it can tell you who hates them and it can spot anyone else around who simply doesn't care about them. The Boo could not hide his love of the Corps of Cadets. He could scream at us, write us up for demerits, hand out tours like business cards, call us bums far into the night, threaten to send us to Clemson a hundred times, catch us heading to Big John's for a beer, deny us leave, bemoan the fact all day that bums were ruining the Corps he could do all of this but he could never stop loving us and we could never stop loving him back and it showed, and it became his final undoing. He was fired as assistant commandant and finished out his Citadel career at the warehouse. He was told not to talk to Citadel cadets. As always, The Boo carried out his duty.
In 1968, I began writing The Boo's biography and it was here I learned all the stories. I did not know he'd written out checks to help poor cadets pay their tuition. I did not know how many corsages he'd bought for dates at the ring hop or the money he paid to bail cadets out of jail. He bought two seniors their Citadel rings, but he wouldn't let me put that in the book. The Boo asked Citadel grad J.C. Hare to give free legal advice to cadets in trouble and J.C. never let him down. Every time he asked a senior for his ring as he was kicking him out of school, The Boo could not sleep that whole night. He wouldn't let me put that in the book, either. There was no act of generosity too large for The Boo to proffer to a Citadel cadet. It seemed like too large a job to love an entire Corps of Cadets, but The Boo said it was the easiest job he ever had.
'There was only one cadet I ever really hated. Just one name I can think of,' The Boo said.
'That'll make an interesting story for the book, Colonel. Who is the jerk?' I asked.
'It was you, Conroy. Just you. There was something about you that I hated when you first walked into fourth battalion, you worthless bum.'
By the time I finished writing 'The Boo,' I was head over heels, punch drunk in love with the man. By writing the book I got to know The Boo as well as anyone who ever lived. I came to know his demons, his insecurities, his failures. I think he was a better father to the Corps of Cadets than he was to his own children, Helen and Al, and I told him that many times and he always agreed with me. But our love for each other was irreproachable as it would be tested many times.
Before the book came out he asked me if there was anything he could do for me, and I said yes. 'Colonel, you always call me a bum. You've never called me one of your lambs. I'd like to be a lamb now that I've written this book.'
The Boo approached me and nearly put out my left eye with one of his nasueating cigars.
'Conroy, you were born a bum, lived like a bum, and proved to be a bum every day of your sorry life as a cadet. You'll always be a bum to me. Never a lamb.'
When I was writing this eulogy last night, I pulled the copy of 'The Boo' that the Colonel had presented me on publication day 36 years ago. I was looking for a story that summed up The Boo's character and personality and charm. I did not know he had signed it for me that day and I did not know what he signed until last night. He signed my copy of 'The Boo' this way: 'To the lamb who made me. The Boo'
I come now to the last words I will ever write about The Boo in my career. I was lucky to have met him as a young man when I needed a father figure as much as I needed a college education. It is to my great sorrow that The Citadel grads present at The Boo's funeral today are some of the biggest lowlifes, scoundrels, alcoholics, philanderers, nose pickers and bums that ever made it through the long gray line, but I know that The Boo would have it no other way.
When I was writing 'The Lords of Discipline,' I went to The Boo for help.
'What makes The Citadel different from all other schools? What makes it different, special and unique? Why do I think it is the best college in the world when I hated it when I was here, Boo? Help me with this.'
The Boo held up his hand and said, 'It's the ring, Bubba. Always remember that. The ring, the ring, the ring.'
I thought about it for a moment then wrote the words, 'I wear the ring.' 'How about this for a first line?'
'Perfect, Bubba, just perfect.'
It is time to end this, Boo.
Farewell to the artillery man.
You'll always be our commandant.
Always our leader.
Always our role model.
Always the father our fathers could not be.
When you reach the pearly gates, Citadel man, remember your voice, Boo, and try not to scare the angels.
When they asked you what you loved most in life, tell them what you told me. Tell them about The Citadel. Tell them, Colonel, tell them about the bums who loved you but last of all tell them about the ring, the ring, the ring.