George Pasley has devoted more than half his life to sheep. He's nurtured scared ewes through their first lambing. He's wrestled unruly rams to the ground so he could shear their matted, dirty fleece.
Pasley, who grew up on a Carroll County farm and lives in western Howard County, has spent nearly every spring for the past 27 years shearing sheep. A legend among sheep breeders and owners on the East Coast, Pasley, by his estimation, has sheared the wool from nearly 100,000 sheep.
There are many people -- including Pasley -- who thought the only way he'd ever hang up his clippers would be if his hands no longer had the strength to operate them.
But Pasley recently attended his last Maryland Wool Pool in Timonium -- the annual gathering where sheep owners from Maryland and Delaware pool their wool to get the best price possible from Southern fiber mills.
Today, the quiet man who's partial to well-worn T-shirts and pinstriped overalls, will be ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
Pasley is leaving tomorrow for rural Kansas, where he will be the pastor of two tiny churches -- their combined membership not even 100 people.
He's heard all the jokes -- trading one flock for another and becoming a different kind of shepherd. He even has a ministerial stole made by his sister that features the Psalm "The Lord is my shepherd."
There must be some connection between the path he's already come down and the one his life is about to take, Pasley said. Because whether or not the Lord works in mysterious ways, there's no mystery in the fact that his new life as a minister seems to fit Pasley just fine.
"I like shearing sheep because it's helping people out. It's probably why I went into the ministry -- it's kind of the same thing," he said.
Long active in his church, First Presbyterian Church of Howard County in Columbia, Pasley had considered the ministry for nearly 10 years before he decided to take the advice of family and friends and forge ahead.
Pasley is the first to admit that on appearances alone, he is the least likely candidate for the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary. But shearing has taught Pasley that appearances can be deceiving and what looks like a ratty, knotted dirty mess on the outside may be the finest, brightest, softest wool underneath.
He graduated from Princeton in May after ending up at the New Jersey seminary by default. "I looked at a seminary in Virginia, but they finished up classes in June and that was too late for shearing season," he said.
Shearing usually begins in March and lasts through early June, though some breeders and owners also shear at other times of the year. After a sheep is sheared, the fleece grows anew.
Pasley was 15, raising his own small flock of Corriedales as a member of the Sulphur Springs 4-H Club outside New Windsor, where he grew up, when he sheared for the first time. "I remember I sheared eight the first day -- and it took me all day," he said, laughing.
Today, Pasley can shear 10 to 12 sheep in an hour. He once sheared 156 sheep in 12 hours, though it's not an experience he'd like to repeat. He still shears sheep for Carroll, Howard and Baltimore county 4-H members -- and expects to do the same for the youngest members of his churches in Kansas.
"If you practice enough and get to be good at it, you can make a pretty good wage for a day," Pasley said. On average, shearers charge $1.75 to $3 per sheep depending on the number of sheep and how far the shearer has to travel to reach the flock.
Shearing is very seasonal, however, and there aren't enough sheep on the East Coast for a shearer to earn a living at it full time, Pasley said. Most flocks in Maryland are raised as a hobby and number 30 head or less, he said.
A past president of the Maryland Sheep Breeders Association, Pasley was a shearing demonstrator at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival for 15 years. Pasley also worked with sheep on the state research farm in Beltsville when he was earning his degree in agriculture education from the University of Maryland.
When he decided to make shearing his primary occupation, Pasley worked on a dairy farm and in a sawmill to supplement his income. He also managed a 400-head flock of purebred Romney sheep and Angora goats. This summer, he has been working in a friend's landscape business.
"A sheep shearer is a shepherd with his brains knocked out," said Pasley's longtime friend David Greene, repeating an old Scottish saying Pasley has heard often.
Greene, a lifelong sheep breeder and director of the Carroll County Cooperative Extension Service office who taught Pasley to shear sheep, said Pasley's departure will leave a void.
"You really have to like sheep to be able to do this well," Greene said. "You have to be easy on the animal and easy on the wool, and George is. He's also been one of the most reasonably priced shearers in the state for years."
Greene and his wife, Nancy, said they expect Pasley, ever-calm and constant, will treat his flock of parishioners with the same loving care he has always afforded his sheep. "He's good with children and he'll be good in a small church where he can get to know people on a one-to-one basis," Nancy Greene said.
Though he's looking forward to his new calling, Pasley said he savored his last days here.
"It's been really hard for me to go around and tell these people this will be my last year. I think I might have to come back sometime this spring and shear for some old friends," he said.
Pub Date: 8/03/97