Rose Sharp, whose gracious, calming influence as First Lady helped guide the University of Oklahoma through the turbulent years of 1971 to 1978, died Tuesday, September 13, 2017, at her home in Norman. She was 99.
"The OU family will greatly miss Rose Sharp,” OU President David L. Boren said. “She was a truly outstanding member of our university community. As First Lady, she was especially devoted to students and their well-being. She had a keen understanding of the critically important role of the university in our society."
Born Roseanna Ella Anderson on April 8, 1918, in Sandoval, Illinois, to Audrey and William Anderson, she became just “Rose” to family and friends and the communities of the four universities where her husband, the late Dr. Paul F. Sharp, served as president during their 69-year marriage.
The Anderson family moved from Illinois to Enid, Oklahoma, where Rose attended the now-defunct Phillips University and met Minnesota native Paul Sharp on the debate team. She was the Oklahoma State champion debater and third in the nation. Her husband was fond of saying that they had been debating ever since—and he was still losing. While Paul pursued graduate study at the University of Minnesota, Rose completed her bachelor’s degree in history and political science.
After World War II, where Paul served in the navy, he returned to finish his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. The Sharps then moved on to the faculties of Iowa State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then to presidency of Hiram College, the chancellorship of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the presidency of Drake University, coming to Oklahoma in 1971. The times then were challenging. While Paul dealt with student demonstrations and financial crises, Rose worked tirelessly to bring about reconciliation and raise faculty and staff morale. Conditions were turning around by 1978 when Paul suffered a stroke that forced his retirement from the presidency, but not from the life of the University and the Norman community.
While Paul remained on the faculty, Rose was active as trustee of the Oklahoma City Zoological Society, was on the board of the Norman Regional Hospital Foundation, was a charter member of the docent program at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, and volunteered for Food and Shelter for Friends. Her memberships included AAUW, University Women’s Association, P.E.O., Proteus, Comment (literary club), Valkyrie (honor society), Phi Alpha Theta (honorary history society), Old Regime and was the Norman Business and Professional Women’s Woman of the Year. Rose was a member of the First Christian Church of Norman where she continued to enjoy copies of the sermons so much that she sent them on to her children with high praise.
She was awarded the Distinguished Service Citation in 1980, the University of Oklahoma’s highest honor at the time. In 2004, she received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree from OU. Recognizing her love of flowers, especially roses, the university created the Rose Sharp Rose Garden on the campus in her honor.
Well into their eighties, the Sharps were regular attendees at OU concerts, exhibits, lectures, banquets and sports events. After Paul’s death in 2009, Rose’s enthusiastic presence continued, especially at football games—always beautifully dressed, her red hair perfectly coifed, her inquiring mind and quick wit undimmed by age.
Rose was preceded in death by her parents and four siblings. She is survived by her children: Bill Sharp and wife Liz of Homer, NY; Katie Sharp Dunlap of Edmond, OK; and Trevor Sharp and wife Jane of Greensboro, NC; and grandchildren: Michael Sharp and wife Sandra; Marny Dunlap; Daniel Dunlap and wife Cathy; Chris Sharp; Brandon Sharp and wife Elizabeth; Heather Freeman and husband Larry; Graham Sharp and wife Stephanie; and 13 great grandchildren.
Memorial services will be held at 2:00 pm, Tuesday, September 19, at Havenbrook Funeral Home, 3401 Havenbrook St., Norman, OK. Immediately after the services, there will be a gathering to greet the family at Rose’s home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Reach Out and Read Program through the University of Oklahoma Foundation, Inc., 100 Timberdell Road, Norman, OK 73019.