John McCarty Sharp was born in October 1917 in Neenah, Wisconsin. He spent his childhood in Webster Groves, Missouri. In high school Sharp became interested in the study of different languages. This fascination fueled his decision to attend Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri where he earned his BA. Dr. Sharp received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he also taught classes in Portuguese and Italian. Dr. Sharp taught linguistics at several schools including Wright Junior College and Bloomington University before accepting an offer to apply his knowledge at the Texas College of Mines, in 1952.
Dr. Sharp had a great love for language arts that was matched by the satisfaction he derived from teaching. He rarely took a rest from cultivating young minds. During his summers off from UTEP he traveled to universities in New Mexico, Southern California, and Colorado to teach students. According to Laura Hollingsed in the Special Collections department at the UTEP Library, if a student wished to learn a language Dr. Sharp was not familiar with, he would first teach himself the language and then instruct the student. Over the course of his life, Dr. Sharp became fluent in numerous languages, including Russian, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Portuguese, Latin, and Greek.
In 1983 Dr. Sharp was awarded Professor Emeritus by UTEP. He was also a recipient of the Outstanding Teacher Award by Phillips Petroleum. Among his many endeavors over the years, Dr. Sharp was a leading member of several academic and professional organizations: the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, the Sigma Delta Phi National Hispanic Honorary Society, the Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American students, and the Southwestern Classical Association. An amateur ham radio operator, licensed since 1935, Dr. Sharp operated a homemade 225-watt radio. Dr. Sharp indulged this hobby for 70 years. Dr. Sharp was also an amateur astronomer. He was active in a group that tracked the course of the first American satellites crossing El Paso skies. The group sent the data they collected to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. The information was used to track and photograph those same satellites. A short time later, Dr. Sharp and friends formed the El Paso Orion Society, an amateur astronomy club.
A true Renaissance man, Dr. Sharp was also interested in publishing; he was the co-editor of the Southwestern Classical Association’s journal publication for several years. He wrote articles for the American Scholar Magazine, penned numerous books. His collection can be found in Special Collections at the UTEP Library. It includes many volumes of teaching manuals he wrote, a beautiful, ornate, leather bound copy of his dissertation in two volumes, and post cards from friends and students from around the globe. Dr. Sharp himself was well-travelled and spent some of his summers in places as diverse as Mexico, Europe, Cuba, and South America. He was dedicated to imparting his great love of languages to his students. Near the end of his career when he became too ill to visit the campus to teach, he held his classes at his home. He passed away at the age of 86 in June of 2004. He was survived by his wife of sixty-four year, Gladys Sharp.
“If He Not Drilling His Students, He’s Star Gazing or Operating ‘Ham Radio’” by Gene Grigg, El Paso Herald Post Nov, 1959
El Paso Times June 11, 2004, Obituary
Special Collections Dept. of the UTEP Library