Larry Sharpe's remarkable life is 'another story'

March 04, 2011|Kate Coleman

I recently attended a memorial celebration of the life of Laurence "Larry" Sharpe, who died Feb. 4, just before his 89th birthday.

About 200 people packed the lobby of the Athletic, Recreation and Community Center at Hagerstown Community College.

The New Horizons Band, an ensemble with a minimum age requirement of 50, played beautifully. Larry had played the B-flat clarinet with the group.

His life was remarkable. He was an officer in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and served in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps for 20 years as press attache in Iran, Burma, Pakistan and Denmark.

Larry taught U.S. history at Hagerstown Community College for 21 years. He was a life member of the Wolfsville Fire Co. and a Christmas tree farmer. He loved life and lived it fully.

I listened to the remembrances of friends, colleagues, students and family. I heard stories of Larry's huge impact on people. He expected the best and provided the encouragement to help make it happen.

I am honored that I had a chance to share my Larry Sharpe experience. I share it again here:  

I already had a bachelor's degree in English lit when I signed up for Larry Sharpe's Intro to Journalism class at Hagerstown Junior College in 1987. My son was in kindergarten so my afternoons were free, and I thought I'd make good use of the time and get the required basics — the nuts and bolts.

After all, I had TALKED about writing for years.

  Did you hear that? "TALKED" about writing.

  On the first day of class, Larry locked the door at the appointed starting time.

  "You're fired!" he yelled at the latecomers.

  The first of many valuable lessons.

  The class was great — full of those nuts and bolts, and many, many wonderful stories.

  Larry suggested I do an internship at The Herald-Mail. I didn't need the credit, but I called then Executive Editor John League and told him that I wanted to write features not hard news. John wasn't familiar with the HJC internship program, and although he said he couldn't pay me, I could submit features any time.

"Thank you," I gushed gratefully.

Ah, they're just looking for free help. Do the internship," Professor Sharpe, aka "Old Dad," said. He knew I needed a nudge — that little kick in the pants.

I did the internship. Larry sent my diary of it to the Washington Post Magazine, for goodness sake! They didn't publish it, but it was wonderful to have someone believe in me that way.

A few years later, as my marriage was ending, that internship led to a real job at the paper. It saved my life.

I'm still writing. I still love it.

I should be able to come up with something original — something less trite than a line I've seen on T-shirts: "To teach is to touch a life forever."

Sorry. It's true.

I prodded Larry to write his memoir. I told him I already had the title — something he always said after sharing an episode of his amazing life: "That's another story."


 Kate Coleman covers The Maryland Symphony and writes a monthly column for The Herald-Mail.

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