Gerald H. Shinn - UNCW Professor Shinn dies; memorial service planned
A memorial service is being planned at the University of North Carolina Wilmington for Gerald H. Shinn, a beloved professor who founded the North Carolina Living Treasures program.
Shinn, 78, died Saturday at his home in Albemarle after being in declining health for some time. He joined the faculty in 1967, when UNCW was still Wilmington College, and taught there until his retirement in 1995.
A colorful character who claimed his motto was, "Never let your school get in the way of your education," Shinn was known for his classroom stunts, from blowing a conch horn to illustrate Joshua's tactics in the siege of Jericho or having logic students sketch Venn diagrams in chalk on the campus sidewalks. He referred to students as "young'uns" and insisted on sending them to primary sources for answers, explaining that he was not "in the tellin' business." "He was a mentor for many of the students, including my son," said Peggy Dreyfors of Wilmington, a longtime friend. "They just admired him."
Shinn roamed the campus in a Greek fisherman's cap with his necktie often tucked in his shirt pocket. (In a 2000 interview with Sherman Hayes for UNCW's Randall Library, Shinn said that tucking the necktie in the shirt pocket was the secret emblem of a "fraternity" he formed with fellow students who couldn't afford a traditional Greek membership.)
Officially a professor of philosophy and religion, he favored an interdisciplinary approach. "What I teach is students," he once said. "I don't teach subjects."
Among his innovations was UNCW's Museum of World Cultures, a collection of artifacts, art objects and memorabilia from cultures around the globe, which he deliberated scattered into display cases in classroom buildings across campus so more students could see it.
In 1975, in honor of the centennial of Albert Schweitzer's birth, Shinn launched the Albert Schweitzer International Prizes to honor outstanding achievement in music, medicine and the humanities ? and to bring honorees to campus where students could meet them. Among the first recipients was Mother Teresa, who came to UNCW four years before she received the Nobel Peace Prize. Other honorees included the cellist Andres Segovia, the biochemist and Chinese scholar Joseph Needham and the drug researcher George H. Hitchings, who would later receive the Nobel Prize in medicine.
Presented at roughly four-year intervals, the Schweitzer Prizes lasted until 1993. In their place, the Prizes' board of directors chose to create the Albert Schweitzer Honors Scholars program, which continues to this day. The first Honors Scholar, in 2002, was Gerald H. Shinn.
In 1986, through the Museum of World Cultures and with an endowment by Dr. Martin Meyerson in honor of his mother, Shinn launched the N.C. Living Treasures program, which recognized folk artists and artisans ? from potters to gunsmiths to shipwrights ? for lifetime achievement.
Shinn's honors included Outstanding Teacher of the Year, the UNCW Trustees' Teaching Excellence Award, Professor of the Year Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, the UNCW Student Government Teaching Award and the UNCW Distinguished Teaching Professorship. In 1994, he received the O. Max Gardner Award from the University of North Carolina Board of Governors for faculty who have "made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race."
The Gerald Shinn UNCW Alumni Association Merit Scholarship was named in his honor. Shinn Plaza on the UNCW campus was dedicated in his honor in 2001.
Born Dec. 4, 1934, in Charlotte to Fred and Autie Shinn, Gerald Harris Shinn grew up moving around western North Carolina, where his father was a Methodist minister. After graduating from Cooleemee High School, he attended Duke University, where he worked in the dining hall to pay his way.
Shinn graduated in 1956 with a degree in German. In the Hayes interview, he talked about the impact that reading Albert Schweitzer's "Out of My Life and Thought" in the original German had made on his life.
"His whole life seemed to form around what Schweitzer called 'reverence for life,'?" said Shinn's daughter, Ruth Heath, in a telephone interview. "I think that was what drove him. He thought you could learn from everyone, and everyone had something to offer."
Shinn went on to earn a master of divinity degree from Duke in 1959, in Semitic languages, In later years, in conjunction with Tel Aviv University, he would lead UNCW students on archeological digs in Israel. After a year of study in Germany, he returned to Duke, where he earned a Ph.D. in medieval church history in 1964.
Shinn first taught at Louisburg College. Then, in 1967, seeking sea air for relief of severe asthma, he joined the faculty at Wilmington College.
Carolyn Simmons, former dean of the college of arts and sciences at UNCW, said a memorial service for Shinn will be held in UNCW's Randall Library. No date has been set.