Carolyn Hamlin (’57) grew up in Liberty, South Carolina, and came from a family with eight brothers and sisters. Her parents, Furman and Mary Gillespie, provided a loving and caring home for this large family. She says that she had memories of North Greenville College even as a young girl as her two older sisters were students at NGC. She stated that she never had thoughts of going to any other school because her sisters and other family members always talked about North Greenville, and she felt that was the place she should be.
Carolyn is an accomplished composer, lyricist, and organist having been at Easley First Baptist Church for 35 years as organist. She began playing when she was four years old and by the time she was nine was playing in church. At 15 years of age, she became the full-time organist for a church having had no formal training.
Because most of her musical abilities were being able to play by ear, not by reading music, she had great difficulties in working with piano teachers. Because she was very gifted and able to play anything that she heard and was unable to read and comprehend music in the conventional way, her piano teachers grew frustrated with her. This led to a great deal of frustration for Carolyn, also. During her last two years of high school, she took piano lessons from Mr. Bill Piper who understood her situation and, for the first time in Carolyn’s life, she had someone to explain to her the keyboard, scales, and timing. She said that she was so hurt to think of all that she had missed by not learning this sooner. By the time she entered college, she had received approximately 18 month of training and, while she was a very accomplished musician, did not have the keyboard background to enter the advanced piano instruction classes that she needed to be a piano major. Mr. Charles Gatwood, professor of music at North Greenville, encouraged her to major in voice. She did so and received her Associate of Arts from North Greenville College in voice. She was recognized as the Most Outstanding Music Major while at NGC.
Carolyn speaks so fondly of Mr. Gatwood and the fact that he taught her so much about the spiritual aspects of music. She says that he showed that formal training was wonderful, but without a goal, focus, or direction, training is only an end to itself. She found that at that time in her life she was not technically astute, but learned from Mr. Gatwood that she could excel with a spiritual focus to her music. She related how meaningful the choir tours were with Mr. Gatwood. She said that when the students returned, everyone was so filled with the Holy Spirit they would have spiritual renewals on the campus.
Wade Hale’s Bible Class made a real impression on Carolyn as she recalls that she felt as though she was living the Old Testament. She also spoke of Mother White as having an austere demeanor, but, underneath her regimented façade, was a caring and loving person. She stated that Mother White was an anchor through a trail in her college life. She recalls Mrs. Sayer, the librarian, as having a great deal of patience with her in teaching her to effectively use the library and Nancy Derminer who taught French in such a special way because of her travels to France.
Carolyn recalls that she was always into mischief at NGC and on one occasion Mother White told her, “Gillespie, I hear that you were in instigator in the big noise making last night. You had two of the quietest sisters who were the epitome of lady hood that that attended North Greenville. What happened to you?”
After leaving North Greenville she still had the burning desire to take college classes related to a music major. She would not give up on the keyboard and enrolled at Furman University where she was allowed to take the piano lessons that she had been denied at NGC. She realized that she had so many elementary things to be learned through piano lessons. She later enrolled at Bob Jones University and had three years of organ instruction.
She explains that the many hardships in learning to properly read music, have made her appreciate her talent so much more than many would.
She is a busy lady traveling all over the state for Case Music as a staff organist and sales manager for the organ division. Carolyn is married to Talmadge Hamlin (’53). They have three daughters, Terry who is the choral director at J.L. Mann High School, Tracy who is a speech pathologist at Greenville Hospital System and Tammy who is the principal at Forest Acres Elementary School in Pickens County. She and Talmadge are the proud grandparents of one granddaughter.
Carolyn recently addressed an elite group of music students at Converse College on how to succeed in music, without numerous formal degrees. She said that she believes in continuing ones education. The proof is in the fact that her three daughters have send degrees from six different universities. Carolyn said that she and her husband always encouraged their girls to reach their maximum potential. She said there was a time in her life when the lack of the college degrees really bothered her. She now believes that it was part of the Lord’s plan for her as it forced her to work so much harder and excel in what she loves best.
Carolyn travels all over the country giving organ concerts, playing in weddings, civic gatherings, and churches. She said that she feels that many organists feel that playing the organ is just a job, but to her it is a life’s commitment. She relates that she feels that being the organist at Easley First Baptist is a ministry, and she plays the organ with her soul in an effort to reach some person in need. She shared an instance in her church in which a lady was having a really hard time giving her sister up to the Lord for the mission field. Carolyn says that for some reason she felt the need to play “His Eye is on the Sparrow” for the offertory on that particular Sunday morning. The lady later share with Carolyn that the Lord spoke to her through this song saying that if he could take care of a sparrow, he could surely take care of her sister. She says that when people share things like this with her it makes all the preparation and hard work so worthwhile.
She experienced personal tragedy in her life last year by losing her mother and other family illnesses. She decided that it was time to let those people still living who had meant much in her life know how special they were to her. She began to write letters and in the past year has written 100 letters to these special people in her life.
In addition to being an accomplished organist, she composes much of the music she uses in church. She is in the process of starting her own publishing company called Carol Song Music. Her first book will be an organ collection. She has a computer lab set up in her home and enjoys spending spare time composing music. She was most honored when Mr. Gatwood (her professor from NGC) asked her to compose and anthem for his group called the Singing Churchmen of North Carolina. She was very excited to hear this anthem performed by the group on several occasions during their tour.
Carolyn recently was able to study composition under Alice Parker at Princeton University. Ms. Parker was her idol for many year, having written for Robert Shaw for over 18 years. She was delighted to receive an “A” on the course and two hours toward a master’s degree though she has not yet attained her four-year degree.
Carolyn cites her husband, Talmadge, and her daughters as her biggest cheerleaders. She realizes that they have made sacrifices because of her travel and extensive involvement in music, but she strives to make the time they have together, quality time.
She has served as and Alumni Council Officer at North Greenville and she and her husband have been supportive to the college through the years.
North Greenville College is proud to claim Carolyn as one of our own. She sings the praises of North Greenville everywhere she goes. We believe that it is only fitting to recognize her devotion to her music, her family, and the unselfish way in which she serves the Lord.
Article written by Beverly Carlton and published in the September 1993 issue of North Greenville College Alumni Newsletter.