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“You won’t find the name of MacIvey in history books,” is, most likely, a true statement, but it’s certain the man who wrote those words is deserving of being remembered.
Celebrated Floridian Patrick D. Smith, author of seven novels, died just a few short weeks ago at the age of 87. He is most noted for his work “A land Remembered,” a story of the lives of Florida pioneers, such as the fictionalized MacIvey family, in the mid-1800s. Smith, through the years, had been nominated several times for the Pulitzer Prize and even once for the Nobel Prize for Literature. He received countless other awards and nominations before his death, including the distinction as the “Greatest Living Floridian,” contributing “the most to Florida in recent history.”
“On January 26, my father passed away,” Rick Smith said to a crowd of about 200 that had gathered in the Cedar Key Community Center last week to hear about the life of the acclaimed author and his writings. “So, I changed the name of this show to ‘Patrick D. Smith: A MAN Remembered.’ And he’s here tonight, every time you read one of his books.”
Smith has been traveling the state, entertaining sold-out crowds with a multimedia presentation on the life and times of his father. Last week’s event in Cedar Key brought people from as far away as Tampa.
“All I'm trying to tell you is to be strong,” Smith said, reading a passage from what many consider the quintessential book on Florida. “Don't ever let nothing get you down. Don't be afraid or ashamed to love, or to grieve when the thing you love is gone. Just don't let it throw you, no matter how much it hurts.”
“So, there’s dad in his own words,” Smith said about dealing with loss.
Patrick D. Smith was born in D’Lo, Miss., his son said, and he wanted to be a writer from a very early age. He used to submit articles to the local paper when he was in high school, and, at the age of 21, wrote his first novel, “The River is Home,” in 10 days, just to prove he had it in him. The young author received word it would be published a few days later.
In 1966, after earning a degree in English, a stint as a Public Relations guy at “Ole Miss” and another novel called “The Beginning” that centered on the Civil Right Movement, Smith, and family, moved to The Sunshine State.
Not long thereafter, Smith said, the writer began working on what would become “Forever Island,” a story focusing on the degradation of the environment and lives of Seminole Indians.
“This is probably the most important book he ever wrote, after ‘A Land Remembered.’”
Disney even considered making a movie from the book, he said. “And then they said, ‘Oh, he’s writing about us. So, that deal fell through.
“Dad always tells the side of the underdog.”
A taped interview with his father shown during the presentation showed the writer discussing the book.
The writer was told there was no commercial value in the work. “Nobody will read this book,” he was told. “I was convinced it would sell a maximum of six books.”
But then it was published and was included in “Reader’s Digest,” and things changed. Today, the book is published the world over. “That caught a lot of people by surprise,” the author said.
Smith said, for some reason, the Russians regarded the book his father had written with great esteem, inviting him over for three weeks to visit. The Bulgarians, as well, took a fancy to the novel.
“… They were fascinated with alligators,” Smith said, jokingly.
Another film clip of the author showed him describing his book “Allapattah,” the Seminole word for alligator. The writer said he had gotten stuck on just how to communicate the Seminole’s reverence for nature until one day an area “hippie” came into his office and told him about something he’d seen in the Everglades. This man, long haired and sandaled, said he’d seen a cottonmouth water moccasin carry dozens of fish, one after another, in its mouth from a dried pond over to an area where there was still water. The snake set each fish free.
“I knew if he saw what he saw he had witnessed a miracle of nature,” the writer said.
“Angel City,” about the lives of migrant farmers in Florida, was another book that earned the writer acclaim. Patrick D. Smith had bought himself some ragged clothes and took up working alongside the migrants to get an idea of what they were going through.
“Some good did come from that novel,” he said. It created uproar, mostly fueled by newspaper editorials, and helped to enact laws aimed at protecting the workers, he said.
And then the novelist created “A Land Remembered,” which his son said has been in continuous publication since 1984. “It sells more copies every year. The publisher does not spend a dime promoting it.” The book has been described as something that should be issued to everyone coming over the state line, he said.
The author said he spent two years researching Florida history. He read 60 books and knew he wanted to include the Battle of Olustee, the boom of cattle and citrus, railroads, the great Freeze of 1895, the Land Boom of Miami in 1929, the 1926 hurricane that “almost blew Miami off the map” and the 1928 hurricane on Lake Okeechobee that killed 2,000 people in two hours.
He said he wanted to tell the stories of pioneers, the stories that can’t be found in history books.
“What were they looking for? What were there hopes? What were there dreams?”
For years, the author said, people would call and thank him for writing about their families, their homes and the ways they managed to survive.
“People just so identify with the book they really think it’s about their family,” his son said.
And, ultimately, the work has a strong environmental message, Smith said. “He hammers it home at the end of the book. No man can own the land.”