A farewell to columnist Patrick F. Mcmanus
Remembering Pat Mcmanus
ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 11, 2018,
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.