By National Archivist Lyn Harris
Anyone who crossed paths with Roselyn found her unforgettable… She was truly a Sister and leader loved by many.
Roselyn Threadgill was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on September 27, 1925, but for our purposes, her story begins when she joined Chi Omega. A junior transfer from Mississippi State College for Women, the “W,” as it was known, Roselyn joined Tau Chapter at Ole Miss in 1945.
She wasted no time getting involved in campus activities, for she was chosen as a Campus Beauty and recognized by Sigma Chi as their Sweetheart. The very next year, she was chosen by her Sisters to serve as Rush Chairman, a position that suited her outgoing and charming personality. Looking back, it can surely be said that Roselyn, with her charismatic leadership style, was the consummate Rush Chairman for Chi Omega until the day she entered the Omega Chapter.
Roselyn married banker Hal Dabbs, Jr., “Doodle” as she called him. Together, they had two daughters, Mary Lee and Lynn, both of whom were Tau initiates, in Quitman, Mississippi. She was involved in numerous activities in her community, but it was her work through her local Chi Omega Alumnae Chapter and later the state of Mississippi Alumnae organization in the 1970s that caught the eye of then S.H. Elizabeth Carmichael Orman.
Roselyn said Elizabeth called her one evening and asked if she would make a trip to Virginia on behalf of the National Office. Roselyn hesitated and declined, explaining she was to accompany her husband to a banking meeting. After Roselyn hung up the phone, she realized that Sister Orman was not happy that Roselyn said declined. Her husband encouraged her to seize the opportunity saying, “Go! You’ll have fun.” Roselyn called Elizabeth right back to say she would go and asked, “What is the purpose of the trip?”
Our then S.H. responded, “You’ll find out when you get there!” Roselyn admitted that she must have done a satisfactory job because, after that, she always had a “job” at the national level.
Roselyn became a Firesides leader and served on several panels at Conventions. Her first Convention was in 1972, the year longtime Chi Omega leader Mary Love Collins was too ill to attend. Roselyn recalled that everyone seemed a bit frazzled that year with the absence of Mary Love, who hadn’t missed a Convention since 1908!
In 1978, Roselyn was elected to the Supreme Governing Council as S.M. This began her 14 years of service on the Council, also serving a term as S.T.B. and ultimately leading Chi Omega as S.H. from 1988-1992. Her list of accomplishments is long, but none more important than beginning the search for a permanent home for Chi Omega.
When Mary Love died in 1972, the beautiful home on Grandin Road in Cincinnati had to be sold, since future National Presidents would not necessarily live in Cincinnati and the residence was not zoned for a business. The Executive Office was relocated to the 33rd floor of the downtown skyscraper, Carew Tower.
I believe the turning point for the decision to move came when Steve Short, then CEO of our former official jeweler, Burr, Patterson & Auld, first met with Roselyn in the office. She graciously welcomed him to the small, but nicely appointed, office where Steve said he was surprised that Chi Omega, being the largest and, in his opinion, most prestigious NPC group, did not own their own headquarters. From that time forward, obtaining a permanent home was on the agenda for every Council meeting!
At the 1992 Convention, plans were announced that Chi Omega was to build a 23,000 square foot facility in Memphis, Tennessee. Roselyn rotated off the Governing Council and became President of the Chi Omega Foundation, kicking off a 3.5 million dollar capital campaign to fund our new Headquarters. She traveled the country with Foundation employee Martha Bradshaw, Psi/Arkansas, as they persuasively collected pledges for naming opportunities in the building.
There are many different leadership styles in every organization, but I can say for certain that Roselyn’s style was my favorite. When selecting people to complete different tasks, she would choose someone she knew was completely competent. Then, she would simply step back and let her do her job.
For instance, with all of the talented Chi Omega interior designers in the world, Roselyn could have named a committee. Instead, she chose one – Mary Evelyn White, Iota/Texas – and let her do her job.
Melanie Maxwell Shain, Chi Delta/Millsaps, oversaw the financial matters. Shelley Potter, Xi Kappa/Texas A&M, designed the garden as our landscape architect. It all came together beautifully. When someone would give Roselyn credit, which she richly deserved, she would say, “Oh, it was a group effort.”
During the first few months after the Executive Headquarters opened its doors in 1994, Roselyn was often on hand to give tours to the many who wished to see the building. On one occasion, Chi Omega had just hosted a gathering and a very large arrangement of fresh flowers was still gracing the main gallery. A group of National Officers from another NPC group toured the building with Roselyn and were very impressed by the flowers that remained. They asked if Chi Omega always had a lovely arrangement, to which Roselyn replied swiftly, “We do.”
Our Roselyn was well-loved by many. Before I was hired by her as a Chapter Visitor in 1989, I had long-heard stories of how much the traveling consultants adored her. She made many extension trips to start new chapters and was always so much fun.
Roselyn was living proof that Chi Omega has always been for a lifetime. The intergenerational aspect of our Sisterhood could be seen clearly as Sisters of any age enjoyed her. She was a well-dressed woman, often seen in a St. John knit dress, a Berek sweater, or a linen blazer. With a few jangling charm bracelets, she was the perfect Southern Belle in every way.
Many of us also knew Roselyn as a fabulous cook. With the Executive Headquarters in Memphis, she could drive from her home in Mississippi with enough casseroles in the back seat of her car to feed the entire staff. Who didn’t love Roselyn’s famous Chicken Olé, Meat Concern (a hamburger and noodle casserole), cheese straws, and fudge cupcakes?
Roselyn loved Chi Omega well, and we adored her right back. In 1994 she received Chi Omega Fraternity’s highest honor, The President’s Award, to honor her devotion to our Sisterhood.
Less than a decade later, she left us far too soon as she entered the Omega Chapter in 2001. Her purposeful leadership, legacy, and inspiration live on through the lives of those who knew her, our beautiful facility, and the Roselyn T. Dabbs Philanthropist Award, given by the Foundation at every Convention that honors a Sister who, much like Roselyn herself, has demonstrated outstanding fraternal and charitable responsibility and whose generosity encourages others to take philanthropic leadership roles within the Greek community and in her own community.