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Whatever happened to Dr. Jerry Shinn of UNCW?

Ben Steelman

Gerald H. Shinn, beloved longtime professor of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, died Jan. 28, 2013 at his home near Albemarle, N.C.

Shinn began teaching at UNCW in 1967 when it was still Wilmington College and retired in 1995, although he returned as an Albert Schweitzer Honors Scholar in 2002. Many students  — or “youn’uns,” as he called them — considered him a mentor and an inspiration.

Shinn founded the UNCW Museum of World Cultures and launched its North Carolina Living Treasures program, bringing distinguished artisans and folk craft masters to the campus. A devotee of Albert Schweitzer and his doctrine of “reverence for life,” he also founded the Albert Schweitzer International Prizes which, between 1975 and 1993 brought such distinguished figures to UNCW as Mother Teresa (four years before she won the Nobel Peace Prize), the cellist Andres Segoviam the biochemist and historian of science Joseph Needham and the drug researcher George H. Hitchings.

A charismatic teacher, Shinn was famous for knocking over his desk and blowing on a conch shell to illustrate Joshua’s siege of Jericho and for sketching Venn diagrams in chalk on the campus sidewalks for logic classes. He pressed students to hunt out primary sources for answers, explaining he was not “in the tellin’ business.”

Shinn routinely wore a Greek fisherman’s cap, drove a car stuffed to the hood with books and papers and was notable for tucking his necktie into his shirt pocket. (There were multiple explanations for this: (1. He adapted the habit while on a campus bookkeeping job to earn his way through graduate school at Duke, to keep the tie out of the adding machine, (2. He was copying a habit of German fraternities that he observed on a study year abroad, (3. it was the sign of a tongue-in-cheek secret society he and fellow cash-strapped students formed at Duke when they were too broke to join a frat or (4. something else entirely.)

Shinn’s honors included the 1994 O. Max Gardner Award from the UNC Board of Governors, honoring faculty who “made the greatest contributions to the welfare of the human race.” Shinn Plaza on the UNCW campus was named in his honor in 2001, and the Gerald H. Shinn UNCW Alumni Association scholarships were also named for him.

For a link to Shinn’s obituary in the StarNews, click here.

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One Response to “ Whatever happened to Dr. Jerry Shinn of UNCW?”

  1. On January 29, 2013 at 12:46 pm Anne Russell wrote:

    Dr. Shinn died this week at home on his farm in Albemarle.

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