category: Faculty Emeriti - In Memory Of

F. Thirlen Osborne

Professor Emeritus of English

F. Thirlen Osborne

F. Thirlen Osborne (1921-2018), son of Fillmore and Eddie Mae Dee Osborne, was born and raised in Winchester, Ky. His father was a dairyman, and Thirlen helped him deliver milk from house to house; this taught Thirlen a strong work ethic and connection to community and to a variety of people. During his high school years, he was active in musical programs; he was a member of the Kentucky All-State High School chorus and represented the high school in the tenor solo division, receiving high honors.

Osborne received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Kentucky Wesleyan College, where he was a member of the Wesleyan Singers, the male quartet, and the all-state college chorus. He furthered his education at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, where he received the Master of Arts degree. He continued his studies on the doctoral level at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, focusing on the Renaissance and the 19th century periods of English literature.

His teaching career began at his alma mater, Winchester High School. He taught literature, reading, spelling, journalism, and English grammar. He served as faculty advisor for the school newspaper and the yearbook. Osborne also taught English in high schools in Texas and Indiana.

He met his wife, the former Sophie Lee Goolman, while serving Clark County Schools, Ky. Sophie graduated from Eastern Kentucky State University in Richmond, Ky., earned her master’s degree at the University of Kentucky, and did further graduate work at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She taught elementary school grades in both Kentucky and North Carolina and retired in 1991 with nearly four decades of service.

Thirlen came to Gardner-Webb in 1957 where he made an immediate impact on the Department of English. “A quintessential gentleman professor” is how faculty emerita, Dr. Joyce C. Brown described her friend and colleague. Brown remembers being nervous the first time she met Osborne. “He was chair of the department and while he was formal, he was gracious, always witty and courteous, as well as absolute,” she reflected. “My first lessons in college teaching were conducted by Mr. Osborne. Thirlen taught propriety and courtesy through example. He loved the Victorian greats—Hardy, Tennyson, Browning—and shared his love of classicism with his students.”

Brown taught with Osborne for 21 years in the Department of English. His love for the age of Victoria extended to collecting the gadgetry of the period—furnishings, cranberry glass and most especially, clocks. One of her most cherished possessions is a little German clock he gave her. “I keep it to remember him by—his representation of something fine and passing, as we all tried to contribute in our own ways to the growing of our beloved Gardner-Webb from a two-year institution, providing the foundation for success in college, to a university, offering full career programs,” Brown observed. “That institutional growth began with professors who, like Thirlen, believed that all success starts with building strength in scholarship and in character.”

Thirlen Osborne, center, with P.A. Cline, left, and Garland Allen

During his teaching career at Gardner-Webb, Osborne also served as a faculty advisor for the Future Teachers of America and to the staff of “Reflections,” the school’s literary magazine. The forerunner to “Reflections” was the “Green Scribe,” a magazine of freshman composition, which he originated in the English department. Osborne also provided guidance to the school newspaper, “The Pilot,” and the yearbook, “The Anchor,” while at Gardner-Webb. In 1987, he was awarded the status of professor emeritus of English upon retirement.

After his retirement, he continued his interest in acquiring antiques, frequenting estate sales, and collectibles shows. He enjoyed attending operas and diving into all aspects of literature study and appreciation. Osborne even continued attending and teaching classes in the College for Senior Citizens at Gardner-Webb University.

Other professional memberships and activities included the Kentucky Education Association, the North Carolina Education Association, the North Carolina/Virginia Conference on Composition, and the Victorian Institute. He also served on a statewide committee to judge composition contests.

The Osbornes were active in Boiling Springs Baptist Church. He served as a deacon, member of the church choir, Sunday school teacher, member of the music committee, the evangelism committee, and representative to the Kings Mountain Baptist Association (now Greater Cleveland County Baptist Association). Osborne was known to visit hospitals, rest homes, and shut-ins to bring cheer and Christian love to others. Each visit often included a gift appropriate to the personal interest or special needs of the individual.

On November 17, 2018, Osborne died at the age of 97. He was preceded in death by his wife, Sophie.

Source: Personal Interview — Don Ingle

Updated: September 2014 — Thirlen Osborne

Updated: November 2018 — Jackie Bridges

Updated: December 2022 Noel T. Manning II

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