Elon’s first university chaplain Bill Sharpe dies

Sharpe, who served Elon for 12 years in a variety of roles, died Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020.

Bill Sharpe, who served Elon as its first full-time university chaplain, has died. Sharpe passed away Saturday, Jan. 11, at the age of 84.

Bill Sharpe, center, with former University Chaplain Richard McBride and current University Chaplain Jan Fuller at the dedication of the Meditation Room in the Truitt Center in his honor.

William Gray “Bill” Sharpe IV served Elon as chaplain to students, publications director, Media Board chair, coordinator of personal counseling and associate dean of student affairs before being named the university’s first full-time chaplain in 1980. He would serve in that role for four years before leaving Elon to become director of the Raleigh Wesley Foundation, a role in which he worked with students at N.C. State University, Meredith College and Peace College on national and international work teams. He was followed in the role by Richard McBride, who served as university chaplain for 25 years.

“As Elon’s first full-time chaplain, Bill Sharpe introduced Elon to what campus ministry can be as a resource for students as well as faculty and staff,” McBride told The Burlington Times-News in 2019. “Every member of a campus community is seeking a life of integrity and wholeness. Bill demonstrated what such a life looks like. He sat with individuals, created programs and retreats, encouraging everyone to reflect on what matters most and how to live what they value.”

Before joining Elon, Sharpe served as associate minister at Front Street United Methodist Church in Burlington and as founding minister of Benson Memorial United Methodist Church in Raleigh. A native of Elm City, N.C., Sharpe had a love of the theater, stretching back to his days as an undergraduate at Duke University when he was an active member of the Duke Players and Wesley Players. After graduating, he served as technical director of the Ephrata Legion Star Playhouse in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, where in 1957 he met his wife, Barbara, who was serving as a volunteer usher at the playhouse. Sharpe would later organize the front Street Players, a youth drama group, while serving Front Street United Methodist Church.

Sharpe graduated from Duke with a degree in political science and then attended Duke Divinity School with the goal of specializing in religious drama. Sharpe was a founding member of the 1960s Race Relations Committee in Burlington, a member of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, chair of the Sunshine Center for challenged youth, vice-chair of the original Ralph Scott Group Homes, chaplain of the Burlington Jaycees, vice president of the Studio Players and founding board member of the Gallery Players. In the early 1980s, he was commissioned by the Alamance County Arts Council to lead the effort to create the Alamance Children’s Theater.

In retirement, Sharpe served a term as chair of the curriculum committee of Life@Elon, the university’s adult lifelong learning program. In May 2019 Sharpe was recognized by the university, which named the Meditation Room in the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life in his honor. His daughter, Jan Register, serves as administrative assistant for the center.

“My dad was a big proponent of wellness back when wellness had just started to be a thing,” Register told the Times-News in May 2019. “And he was a very big proponent of mindfulness as well, and so the meditation room makes a lot of sense.”

A visitation will take place on Friday, Jan. 17, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lowe Funeral Home, 2205 South Church St. in Burlington. A Celebration of Life service will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18, at 11 a.m. at Whitley Auditorium.