A farewell to colum­nist Patrick F. Mcmanus

Re­mem­ber­ing Pat Mcmanus

Outdoor Life - - CONTENTS - by JIM ZUMBO


long­time hu­mor writer Patrick F. Mcmanus passed away in Spokane, Wash­ing­ton. He was 84. Per­haps the most beloved au­thor to have ever writ­ten for Out­door Life, Mcmanus wrote The Last Laugh col­umn, which ran on the back page of ev­ery is­sue. His books reg­u­larly ap­peared on The New York Times best­seller list. Mcmanus’ mas­ter­fully blended tales of fic­tional char­ac­ters and their some­what-true out­door tribu­la­tions led some to refer to Mcmanus as the Mark Twain of the North­west.

We’ve asked Pat’s dear friend and col­league, for­mer Out­door Life hunt­ing ed­i­tor Jim Zumbo, to take over “Pat’s Page” to help cel­e­brate Mcmanus’ life.

I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly where I met Pat Mcmanus. It was about 40 years ago, but the lo­ca­tion and cir­cum­stances es­cape me. You see, Pat wasn’t the kind of per­son who would bom­bas­ti­cally take over a room. He much pre­ferred the mod­est, quiet, thought­ful route. He was not the man I was ex­pect­ing. I fig­ured he’d be re­gal­ing strangers with his wit— one loud, bois­ter­ous joke af­ter an­other. That was not the case.

Our friend­ship grew over the years, pri­mar­ily be­cause our jobs as writ­ers for Out­door Life drew us to­gether at meet­ings and trade shows, and on hunt­ing and fish­ing trips. I con­tin­u­ously mar­veled at his tal­ent to write hu­mor—a most dif­fi­cult dis­ci­pline. Some­how, to hear in­nu­mer­able read­ers tell it, Pat was ca­pa­ble of mak­ing them laugh out loud in fits of hys­ter­ics.

To be suc­cess­ful, Pat had to be funny month af­ter month. That’s tough—and very few writ­ers ac­com­plish it. In the out­door field, Mcmanus may have been the most pro­lific of all. His writ­ten words were care­fully crafted glimpses into our out­door lives.

Much of Mcmanus’ ma­te­rial con­sisted of em­bel­lish­ments from his up­bring­ing in north­ern Idaho, where he lived in a small cabin with his mother and sis­ter. His dad passed away when he was a boy. Con­sumed by read­ing, the stu­dious Mcmanus even­tu­ally went on to col­lege and then be­came a pro­fes­sor. His first writ­ings were non­fic­tion, but when he re­al­ized that hu­mor helped him sell a story to Sports Il­lus­trated, he be­gan writ­ing straight hu­mor pieces. A sale to Field & Stream in 1968 clinched the deal. He quickly did the math and re­al­ized he could make more money writ­ing hu­mor, which re­quired no re­search, than writ­ing non­fic­tion, which typ­i­cally re­quired ex­ten­sive re­search.

Pat’s most beloved char­ac­ters— Ran­cid Crab­tree; Retch Sweeney; Crazy Ed­die Mul­doon; his sis­ter, the Troll; his wife, Bun—were based on real peo­ple, but only Pat’s clos­est life­long as­so­ciates knew their true iden­ti­ties. Their names were cre­atively cho­sen be­cause each con­jured up an im­age as to their per­son­al­i­ties, and since brevity in hu­mor writ­ing is es­sen­tial, read­ers could eas­ily gain an in­sight. And, of course, had their true iden­ti­ties been known, he would have to edit their an­tics and elim­i­nate much, if not all, of the em­bel­lish­ment in his tales.

Sup­port­ing cast aside, the Mcmanus brand of hu­mor res­onated so deeply with his au­di­ence that his books sold more than 5 mil­lion copies. And all of it was steeped in hunt­ing and fish­ing high jinks—real-life sit­u­a­tions that all hunters, fish­er­men, and campers could iden­tify with, from wiring a boat trailer to per­fect­ing a knot, ty­ing a buck to a bi­cy­cle or dup­ing Ran­cid Crab­tree into fly­ing by hold­ing on to a huge kite.

Although re­luc­tant to show off his field skills, Pat never fooled me when down­play­ing his hunt­ing or fish­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Per­haps my most trea­sured mem­ory took place on a bear hunt in Canada, which ap­peared as sideby-side Mcmanus-zumbo fea­tures in Out­door Life. We were each charged with writ­ing our own ac­count of the hunt. In short, Pat got his bear and I blew an easy shot at a big bruin—my bul­let de­flect­ing off a fir sapling. In his inim­itable style, Mcmanus soft­ened his achieve­ment while hav­ing fun with mine, writ­ing that in my quest for a tro­phy twig, I fired at the sapling when the bear hap­pened to walk be­hind it. It was vin­tage Mcmanus. But I was there and can rec­og­nize a per­son who knows his way around the woods no mat­ter how care­fully he crafts the tale.

Although a few months have passed, I still find it hard to be­lieve that Pat is gone. There will be no new de­light­ful sto­ries, but his books, ar­ti­cles, and one­lin­ers will live on for­ever. For that, we are em­i­nently thank­ful.

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