April 13, 2021

Rosemary Sweet Thoburn November 14, 1930 – April 13, 2021

Today we lost a great, my mother, Rosemary Sweet Thoburn.  Not forever. 

You might expect me to post a picture of just her and my dad.  But the best shots of my mom were from times when she had what she wished most, being around her many children and grandchildren.  


Born in Connecticut to a graceful family my mom was a true New Englander.  Her father, Lloyd Sweet, was an inventor and Pentecostal preacher.  Stella Pray Sweet, her mother, was an industrious worker.  At times she was knitting at other times running her dress shop in which she personally hand created every garment.  Other years she was handing out cash, managing payroll at my grandfather’s wartime factory.

It was unlikely that my mom would marry a farm boy from Ohio.  But she waited until her parents finally consented and in God’s providence my family was born.  While the match may not have been the most obvious, my mother remained loyal and faithful to her marriage and to my father all his days.  She supported him in his many and various endeavors during his long life. 

Visiting Oak Hill Christian School to train teachers some years back, my mother introduced herself as someone who had wanted to be a preacher.  She was a preacher at heart.  She rallied the troops when Thoburns lost political races.  When she testified in court as a witness against Fairfax County she readily overtook lawyers and spoke her mind telling the jury what needed to be done. 

But, she never complained.  My mother gladly acknowledged that scripture forbid her to be a preacher and she found every proper way she could to use her talents to advance the kingdom. 

She came to Virginia in 1959 with my father to start the first OPC church in the area.   She supported him later when he worked as an independent “Presbyterian” preacher.  With him she founded America’s first privately owned Christian school, Fairfax Christian School. 

Rosemary Thoburn zealously advocated that parents teach their children in the manner prescribed in Deuteronomy.  She was proud of her phonics books and her reading program.  She was also thankful for her children, actually lamenting that she did not have more than 8.  Her friends, Beka and Arlin Horton, developed a similar reading program.  She told me that their program became a well known and successfully marketed curriculum because the Hortons, being given no children, were fully dedicated to their work. 

For many years, my mother was a principal at the school she helped start, at that time the largest Christian school in Northern Virginia.  She supervised the lower school with her staff and developed ways of teaching from a Christian perspective.   She often taught Bible classes and developed curriculum to teach Old and New Testaments.  She did all kinds of things.  I remember her running outside with a big extinguisher the day we had a fire.  No one was hurt but the fire that day required the experienced fire crew and trucks that quickly arrived.  My father returned home that night and surveyed the $40,000 in damage. But, the next day he was back in Richmond and my mom gladly ran the school on her own as they embarked on their effort to build back even better. 

With my father she traveled nationwide and helped start over 200 Christian schools.  She trained teachers and administrators, read with children. 

Once my parents helped some families from the mountains in Virginia who refused to enroll in public schools.  The school district agreed to leave them alone if they’d just enroll their children briefly, allowing them to receive a bigger budget allocation, and then withdraw them.  The hill people said “no.”  Before the word “homeschool” existed my mom zealously trained them to teach their children from home.  She and my dad hired them a lawyer, Guy Farley.  At an appeals level they won their case protecting their right to teach their own children.

My mom lived to see the Christian school movement become a widespread phenomenon.  She saw efforts of parents to retake their God given responsibility move forward in other directions as well.  In her last days she was weak but gracious and kind.   She was supportive of her children’s continued battles, always asking questions about our work.  She was so grateful for the 90 years she had been given.  She expressed thanks for each additional day that she was given on this side of the resurrection. 

Like Zipporah who circumcised her own son or Rahab who hid the spies, my mother was one to take risks.  She would gladly step in and use whatever strength and wisdom she had been given to do the right thing when it wasn’t getting done.   

May each of us ask for grace to work hard, love God, and to do our part to advance the Kingdom as Rosemary Thoburn did. 

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. ... and this mortal shall have put on immortality...Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? ...Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.

Robert Loren Thoburn II

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