McManus left us laughing
Patrick F. McManus was one of the funniest people I have ever come to meet. Whether you had the pleasure to gain his acquaintance or not, there are undoubtedly millions of people on this planet who probably share the same sentiment as me.
He was introduced to the American public quite by accident when he submitted a humor piece on outfitting wildlife with radio telemetry equipment. Not only did he come to realize he was quite good at this most difficult task of making people laugh, he found out that it paid better than anything else he was involved with work-wise.
It started with a regular column on the back page of Outdoor Life magazine, as well as Field and Stream magazine later on. The OL column was named “The Last Laugh,” although he continued to make people laugh throughout his career, from the 1970s to 2014, when his last book was written. He will continue to make people laugh as long as they read his zany stories on the out-of-doors in his own self-deprecating style for many years to come.
McManus was a humor writer who focused on fictional characters in pursuit of his own personal outdoor pastimes of hunting and fishing. Like his exaggerated prose, his character development had a twinge of reality intertwined within elaborate schemes that often took you down various side roads before he brought you back around to his original focal point.
Rancid Crabtree is based on an actual character he came to know in Sandpoint, Idaho, growing up as a kid – a hermit who lived in the mountains there. “The Troll” was his sister (Patricia), “Strange” was his peculiar dog, followed by other characterizations of Crazy Eddie Muldoon, Retch Sweeney and more.
I had the good fortune to meet McManus face-to-face during a conference of the Outdoor Writers Association of America in 1983. The meeting was in Spokane, Wash., and we both had signed up for a post-conference trip that took us into the mountains of Northeast Oregon, rafting and fishing on the Grand Ronde River for two days. Also on the trip were Bill Hilts Sr., Sheila Link (the first woman president of the OWAA) and Charlie and Kathy Farmer, all legendary media mavens in their own right. I was a newbie who had been writing but three years.
We were able to camp overnight on the banks of the river, sharing a steak dinner and tales by the fireside as the wood crackled – and eerie sounds of possible Sasquatch broke branches while attempting to quietly sneak behind us in all our camaraderie. At least McManus mentioned that more than a few times, and the Northwest is a popular Sasquatch hangout. We noticed those threats more in our tents as I slept next to the axe used for chopping wood for the campfire. I would protect us from any harm.
Anyway, McManus had a dry sense of humor. Not even a boisterous whitewater rafting adventure (due to record-breaking temperatures melting a significant amount of snow in the mountains the week before) drenching us at every rapid could put a damper on that humor. One particular memory involved a pair of sneakers perched over a fire drying out with a stick – no different than cooking up a marshmallow or hot dog, wondering when they were going to be “done.” It still brings a smile to my face.
At every OWAA conference I attended, if McManus was an attendee, I went out of my way to say hello and reacquaint myself with the king of chuckle. Always friendly and gracious, he was a very special individual. Occasionally he would give a talk on humor writing and it was always standing-room-only at these craft improvement conferences.
You can’t teach “funny,” though, and he had a gift that few could compare. I have dabbled a bit myself at fictional humor writing, but it always seems to be funnier when the stories were actually about me and my own misadventures. I always thought Pat could have written a book about me. Then again, maybe his imagination wasn’t limitless.
During his career as a humor writer, he sold more than 5 million copies of his books, many appearing on the New York Times best-seller list. I was saddened to hear that he died on April 11, 2018, in a nursing facility in Spokane after dealing with declining health at the age of 84. I’d like to think he left us with a big smile on his face and that he truly did have a “Last Laugh” before he departed.
In memory of McManus, I pulled out all the books I have from him, many copies adorned with his autograph. It didn’t take long to reacquaint myself with this master of wit and he had me laughing out loud as people around me looked on with disconcerting eyes. What’s wrong with a good laugh now and again? He’s a funny guy. Maybe I shouldn’t have had my pajamas on in the library, but that’s another story.
If you have never read Patrick F. McManus, you owe it to yourself to do so. Life is too short. I will always think of him as the person with the wry smile pictured on the cover of his “The Good Samaritan Strikes Again” … watching a pair of sneakers spontaneously combusting over a fiery pit along the banks of the Grand Ronde River. It will make me smile every time my mind goes there, especially the flight home and having to wear those melted shoes. The books help, too.
Rest in Peace, Pat.