Rosemary Tarwater Starnes

Rosemary Tarwater Starnes, 91, of Tullahoma passed away Wednesday, April 28, 2021, at 5:15 a.m. at her home.

Born the fourth daughter of a farmer father and a schoolteacher mother in Sevierville, Rosemary was incentivized by her parents to excel in school. Her sister Doris shared that she never had to work hard to achieve good grades, she easily absorbed everything in class, rarely had to study and made terrific grades throughout her high school years. She was an active member of the Pleasant View United Methodist Church youth group, an accomplished pianist and trumpet player, played piano at her church, and was often asked to play taps at local funerals. She was awarded a music scholarship to Martin Methodist College in Pulaski where she met Bill Starnes, the love of her life. Bill pursued Rosemary relentlessly, as he considered her the most beautiful girl on campus. After their first year in college, he asked for her hand in marriage.

He did advise her that at age 14, after reading a book named African Game Trails written by Teddy Roosevelt that he had heard and accepted the call by God to become a missionary to Africa. She had to think long and hard about it, but eventually decided that life with Bill would be a grand adventure. They married on September 15, 1949, and after further studies at Scarritt College and Vanderbilt University, they headed overseas. With more studies in Brussels to learn several languages, they made their way to Zaire where they served as missionaries for four years. Bill preached among numerous tribal villages and Rosemary taught health and hygiene to the local village women. As missionaries, Bill founded a college originally named the Congo Polytechnic Institute, now known as the University of the Congo. During their stay the Congo Crisis occurred and war broke out between the government and Communist rebels who were looting the country’s valuable minerals and copper. During this crisis, Bill was captured and almost killed by rebel troops.

Through almost divine intervention, he was rescued and Rosemary, Bill and their four children were smuggled out of the country returning home on the SS United States ocean liner in 1960. Upon their return, Rosemary became a language teacher and Bill continued his support of the Board of Global Ministries and the University of the Congo for another six years until he was recruited by his alma mater, Martin Methodist College to become President with Rosemary serving as First Lady. Rosemary was the wind beneath his wings during their 11 years on campus, and during that time he doubled the size of the campus and was instrumental in setting the stage for it to become a four-year institution. Prior to his retirement, the Student Union Building was named the Bill & Rosemary Starnes Student Union Building. In a few weeks, Zan Martin, also a Martin alumna who is now serving on the Board of Trustees, will participate in the unveiling and dedication of a painting she produced in their honor that will be permanently placed in the Student Union Building. Throughout the years, aside from her deep and abiding faith in her savior Jesus Christ, her five children were Rosemary’s greatest pride and joy. When they were young, she entered them in many music and art studies to help them explore their natural gifts and talents teaching them that there was nothing in life they couldn’t achieve if they wanted it bad enough. And most importantly, she provided intense, unconditional love throughout their lives.

After their tenure at Martin Methodist College, Bill returned to the pulpit where he served the United Methodist Church in both Nashville and Tullahoma while Rosemary became active with the Daughters of American Republic, (DAR) and the Garden Club, and as she always had, continued to host extravagant dinner parties and gatherings at their home. After Bill retired in June, 1996, she most loved working in her garden, enjoying time with family and friends out on Bill’s beloved pontoon boat and as many visits with her children and grandchildren as she could get.

Rosemary is predeceased by mother Ella Tarwater, father Millard Tarwater, sister Ruth Thomas, sister, Altha Wager, sister, Wilda Parrot, husband, Billy McDonald Starnes, daughter, Evelyn Starnes Pelfrey, and son-in-law, Phillip Tomlinson Terry.

She is survived by sister Doris Phelps, daughter Carol Terry, daughter Linda Edwards (Bruce), daughter Suzanne Martin (Randy), son Robert Starnes, grandchildren Robert Edwards (Cheryl), Blake Edwards, Jeff Grammer (Abby), Zachary Starnes, Kaylee Starnes, and six great grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Martin Methodist College, First United Methodist Church Tullahoma, or the Ella Tarwater Scholarship Fund, care of Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church, Sevierville, TN.

Her visitation will be held on Thursday, May 6 at First United Methodist Church in Tullahoma from noon to 2 p.m. with the funeral service to follow at 2 p.m. with Rev. Rickey Wade officiating. Burial will follow at Rose Hill Memorial Gardens.

Kilgore Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Tullahoma News – May 2, 2021

Sign A Guestbook

Offer a personal message of sympathy...

By sharing a fond memory or writing a kind tribute, you will be providing a comforting keepsake to those in mourning. If you have an existing account with this site, you may log in with that below. Otherwise, you can create an account by clicking on the Log in button below, and then register to create your account.