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Oprah of the Piney Woods

Kathy Patrick wields some hefty clout out of her beauty shop/book store

Every conversation with her is littered with references to literary characters, from Scarlett O'Hara to Tarzan. She is a fast talker, who quickly steers the conversation in the exact direction she wants it to go. "Books saved me," she says.

The oldest of three daughters, Patrick dropped out during her sophomore year of college after her parents told her they could no longer afford her tuition. She worked in a bowling alley to raise money to enroll in beauty school instead and did hair to help pay the bills. She started working for Elizabeth Arden and in the mid '80s she moved to California to help run the company's Red Door Spas.

"Everybody thinks they want to move to California, but let me tell you, living there is hard. Willie Morris is an author who said, 'You work half your life trying to get away from the little town you grew up in, and the second half of your life you spend trying to get back to it.'"

Patrick's memoir The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life was published in 2008.
Patrick's memoir The Pulpwood Queens' Tiara-Wearing, Book-Sharing Guide to Life was published in 2008.
Author Pat Conroy, who wrote The Prince of Tides, shows his appreciation of Patrick during Girlfriend Weekend, an annual gathering of the Pulpwood Queens in Jefferson.
Photo courtesy Kathy Patrick
Author Pat Conroy, who wrote The Prince of Tides, shows his appreciation of Patrick during Girlfriend Weekend, an annual gathering of the Pulpwood Queens in Jefferson.

She found her way to Texas in 1987, to visit her sister, who had bought a Victorian house in Jefferson, the Bed and Breakfast Capitol of Texas. Two weeks later, Kathy had a Victorian home of her own. It was also in Jefferson where she met her husband, Jay, a seventh-generation Texan.

"This is just like the town I grew up in, except that the town I lived in (in Kansas) is now a ghost town, and this is a very vital little city. So I came here and bought a historic home and turned it into a B&B."

Once her kids were born, housing vacationers became problematic "because you can't keep kids quiet. But I had to do something," she says. "I had to have a job." Her thoughts turned back to her fourth-grade teacher.

"When I had my first child, it changed everything. I didn't want to do anything unless it was important," she says. "I didn't think doing hair was important at the time. I said, 'I can sell books. Reading is important.'"

Patrick went to Barron's, an independent bookstore in Longview, to apply for a position. It became the first of many instances where her enthusiasm for reading helped her get a foot in the door. "They said they weren't hiring, but the owner called me back and I had this amazing interview with him and I went to work the next day," she says. "I worked there for seven years."

She read everything she could get her hands on, and within a month she'd become the children's book buyer. "Then I started doing the events and the newsletter. You know, I just get going on stuff and I go crazy," she says. That led to a position as a publisher's rep with Southern Territories Associated, pitching books from publishers such as Algonquin Press and Rand McNally to small bookstores in Oklahoma, North Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.

"I first met Kathy when she was a bookseller and I was in marketing at Doubleday," said Marly Rusoff, literary agent to both Patrick and Pat Conroy. "I loved her passion for reading and we shared that passion over the phone, the first time in talking about To Kill A Mockingbird. Kathy's enthusiasm has always been infectious and she won over many authors."

Patrick loved that job because she could both travel and work from home, but after fewer than three years, the company had to downsize. Box stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders were killing all the locally-owned bookstores in mid-size Texas towns like Tyler and Lufkin. Even Barron's, the shop where Patrick worked as a children's buyer, had stopped selling books to become more of a gift shop.

"It was October 4, 1999. I'll never forget it because I had just bought a new car, I had two little children, and it was right before Christmas. And you know, there's nothing worse than being in your 40s and having your whole world just kind of taken away," she says.

"I did some fast talking and I talked him into keeping me until December, so I'd get at least two more paychecks. In the meantime, I convinced my husband to convert his office into a beauty shop."

Patrick sunk into a deep depression. When she lamented having to leave the book industry, it was her sister who suggested: "Why don't you do both." So at the beginning of 2000, Beauty and the Book was born.
_____________________

In some ways, Jefferson, in far Northeast Texas, is the perfect town for a quirky little shop like Beauty and the Book. Nearly every other home and commercial building on the main drag has a historical marker out front, including The Grove, a 19th century house called the most haunted place in Texas. And residents are happy to recount all kinds of legendary stories.

The town has close ties with New Orleans, and for years it was the farthest northern sea port in the state, carrying river boat passengers along Caddo Lake between the Red and Mississippi rivers. Railroad magnate Jay Gould allegedly lobbied the town in the mid 1800s to build a station there, but the people of Jefferson, citing their steady business from the river traffic, told him to get lost. This led to Gould (supposedly) scrawling "Death to Jefferson" in the registry of his hotel, Excelsior House, and fleeing the state. Years later, in 1873, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers blew up the Great Red River Raft, a centuries-old natural dam, effectively drying up riverboat travel to Jefferson for good.

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8 comments
Bill Torgerson
Bill Torgerson

Fun read! Nice background for me as I try to tell a story around the video I shot at Girlfriend Weekend 2012.

Writecarolodell
Writecarolodell

The comparison to Oprah is not an exaggeration--Kathy Patrick is fierce, fun, and has a genuine passion for books and people. Her devotion to her fans, to literacy, and to her community is the glue to her "queendom." Her book clubs are not just in name only--her clubs read and discuss and are a driving force in the publishing world--and you don't know what fun is until you experience one of her Girlfriend Weekends--held each January--those folks know how to party--with some of the well-loved and well-loved authors as guests. Kathy lives a big life in a small town! She's an example of what one person can do. ~Carol O'Dellwww.caroldodell.com

Carrifrederick
Carrifrederick

I was one of the many people that made the pilgrimage to Jefferson, Texas after reading her book! Let me say, Kathy Patrick is one of the sweetest people showing true southern hospitality that there ever was! There were eight of us that made the trip and the day ended up being magical! She is definitely kind and generous. She is genuinely the Pulpwood Queen! All she gushes about is books and books and more books. We loved it, where some people stalk after movie stars and athletes we do the same with authors!! LOL She needs her own reality show for sure! I remember when we were visiting Jefferson and we went into one of the little shops there, I ask the store owner, "Do you know who Kathy Patrick is?". He said, "Oh yeah, shes crazy isnt she?"..we all laughed and said, "She seems pretty normal to us!"

Brookebivey
Brookebivey

Wonderful article! Love, love, love Kathy Patrick and the Pulpwood Queens!

Twila Carter Ilgen
Twila Carter Ilgen

What a wonderful article! Great story, Kathy's a real jewel of the Piney Woods! Keep up the good work!

West7t4
West7t4

This is probably the most interesting and well written story I have read in the Press in years. Keep it up and I will become a regular reader again.

Kathleenkaska
Kathleenkaska

What an incredible article! This is the best one ever (including what I wrote). Oprah of the Piney Woods, Kingmaker, great names. And I love the photo of Kathy and Pat Conroy. Kathy is truly a jewel of the literary world and I'm delighted to know her.

Kay Huck
Kay Huck

Kathy Patrick is a one woman show who is all about the other person. Fabulously intelligent, sensitive and creative. Once I met her I ran home and started a PQ book club! It wasn't long before others wanted to join. Her book selections always stimulate discussion and most of the authors have either phoned in or used skype for video calls. Bowing at the foot of The Queen!

 
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