The Great and Powerful Osborne

Dr. Clifton W. Potter, LC History Professor~

From 1955 until his retirement in 1987, Dr. Paul Osborne was a member of the biology department. These are the simple facts of his tenure at Lynchburg College, but the story of “Oz, great and powerful” encompasses more than two dates separated by a hyphen. Actually, the hyphen is what really matters. During his thirty-two years as a member of the faculty, Dr. Osborne was one of our most popular professors.  He was not the performer that Dr. John Mahan was, although he had a wonderfully dry sense of humor. He did not enjoy the celebrity of Dr. Ruskin Freer, whose name was almost a household word in Central Virginia, but the mere mention of Dr. Osborne will elicit a host of memories from alumni.

He was an engaging lecturer, but his work in the laboratory was outstanding.

Biology was perhaps the most popular choice to fulfill the eight-hour requirement of a laboratory science, and Dr. Osborne’s lab sections filled almost immediately. The system by which students registered seems primitive today, but in 1960 it was “state of the art.”


Registration was held on the basketball court—now Memorial Ballroom—at the beginning of each semester. The members of the faculty were seated at tables arranged around the room with boxes of three-by-five cards that were the entry tickets to their various classes. Students registered by classes—seniors first, then juniors followed by sophomores and finally freshmen. Students stood in line to collect cards for the classes they needed, and once these precious pieces of yellow paper were assembled, some gathered in small groups and began trading “professors” as they had once traded baseball cards.


Dr. Osborne’s lab sections were among the most valued classes, and they vanished very quickly, but they could be obtained if one was willing to trade a preferred English section and perhaps one of religion or history.  Once a student had all the cards they needed for the next semester they presented them to the Registrar, where they were duly recorded, and you received a typed tentative schedule. Your confirmed classes were then sent to your campus mailbox the next day.


Why was the Oz so popular? The answer is both simple and complex—just like his discipline.  He was fair like all his colleagues, but he also possessed the quality of caring.  Many students did not have an aptitude for biology, while others found the whole lab experience daunting. With infinite patience, Dr. Osborne worked with each student as if they were the only person in his class. He celebrated every improvement as an accomplishment; no student was ever ignored or dismissed as hopeless. He also made biology fun, exciting even.


I particularly valued his presentation of the theory of evolution. Dr. Osborne was what Dr. Hopwood described as a “Christian laymen,” but he was also a scientist. A theistic evolutionist, he introduced his students to the miracle of creation with its order—a world created not in seven days, but in endless centuries.  
The foundation of our outstanding biology department was laid by dedicated teachers like Dr. Paul Osborne. Unlike the legendary Wizard of Oz whose reputation was founded on illusion, Dr. Osborne’s was grounded in solid scholarship.

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