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Caroline Cox: Her history lives on

by Katie E. Ismael
Pacific Review, summer 2016

She may not have physically been there, but it was still her hands writing the words. It was still her voice that was coming through. It was still her years of research and her scholarship they were bringing to life.   

There, within the pages of Boy Soldiers of the American Revolution, Caroline Cox was with them again. 

Cox was a beloved history professor and magnetic storyteller who had influenced countless students before she
succumbed to cancer in the summer of 2014. To understand how this professor's fourth and final book was brought to completion, you need to know her history. 

HER STORY...

There is much to say about Cox and her 59 years on this Earth.  At the age of 24, she emigrated from Glasgow, Scotland, to pursue a career in finance. She worked in New York City, in Idaho and in the Bay Area before she had a career shift.

As one story goes, while working in finance in San Francisco, she would pass a homeless man every morning in front of the same store. One day, she heard him crying. She stopped to talk to him, then held him as he cried. Right then, she decided to make a change so she could have a bigger impact on the future. 

So, at the age of 30, she entered college. She went on to earn her degrees, including a PhD in history, at UC Berkeley. 

"Her experience as a nontraditional student encouraged her to mentor and support every student who crossed her threshold in her 15-year career at Pacific," said Greg Rohlf, also a history professor and a close friend of Cox. 

books stacked           
"Writing a book is like having a baby— it starts with a tiny idea, and it grows, and it is a part of you."

— Gesine Gerhard, professor of history

She joined Pacific in 1998 and established her academic reputation as a cultural historian of the Continental Army, wrote Rohlf in a memoir published in the American Historical Association's Perspectives on History newsletter. Her first book, A Proper Sense of Honor: Service and Sacrifice in George Washington's Army, was widely reviewed and praised for its analysis of hierarchy and class attitudes in colonial America, he said.

She was driven, he said, to include "ordinary people in the historical record."

As a scholar and storyteller, she was driven to write another book, The Fight to Survive: A Young Girl, Diabetes and the Discovery of Insulin, for which she received international acclaim. Her compassion is once again seen in its pages as she recounts the story of one of the first diabetics to receive insulin treatment.

"She wrote admiringly of [the girl's] courage to 'live richly' in the face of her illness," Rohlf said.  As her friends and colleagues would later observe, "Caroline herself carried on bravely and without complaint until the end, living a rich life," he said. 

As the years passed, Cox received many awards for her teaching and scholarship, including the Faye and Alex Spanos Distinguished Teaching Award, the Pacific Distinguished Faculty Award, the Pacific Alumni Association Faculty Mentor Award and the university's highest honor, the Order of Pacific, which was awarded posthumously. She served as interim dean of the College of the Pacific from 2012 to 2013, a symbol of the esteem in which she was held by her colleagues, Rohlf said.

She also inspired thousands of students.  

Caroline Cox teachingEven when she became ill and had only a short time left to live, Rohlf noted that she still insisted on teaching her favorite class, a survey course on the history of warfare. 

She also pursued her scholarship and continued working on Boy Soldiers until she could no longer do so.That's when family, friends and colleagues, both former and current, jumped in to bring her final manuscript to fruition.  They all took on different, but important, roles. Her former adviser at Berkeley, Bob Middlekauff, continued with the historical part of the book and carefully read the entire manuscript at the end; her husband, Victor Ninov, tackled the bibliography and indexing; and her Pacific colleagues, in particular history professor Gesine Gerhard, were instrumental in working with the publisher on the final edits before publishing.

"Years back, I had read the book proposal she had written to market this book to her publisher, and I remembered the conversations we had. As a colleague, I had listened to Caroline giving talks about the book, and I watched it grow," recalled Gerhard.

"Writing a book is like having a baby-it starts with a tiny idea, and it grows and it is part of you," she said. "So this book about boy soldiers is a part of Caroline, and it will keep her present, it will keep her among us."

The legacy continues

Another way that Cox's legacy is living on is through a new scholarship, the Caroline Cox Endowed Scholarship in Humanities, which will support students in any humanities program who have demonstrated financial need.

Through this endowed gift, the Weinstein Family Charitable Foundation is honoring Cox, one of the university's most revered professors, and recognizing her achievements in the humanities and at Pacific. 

"She combined a forceful intellect, a strong passion for history and reason, and a deep appreciation for the poetry of human life with the most charming manners and a delightful sense of humor," said Alexa Weinstein, a longtime family friend of Cox's. "These qualities made a deep impression on all of us, and on everyone who knew her."

Knowing how much Cox valued and believed in her students, Weinstein said the foundation wanted to direct its gift toward their development as future scholars.

They also wanted to maximize the impact of the gift through the Powell Match, a program where the university can match certain endowed gifts dollar-for-dollar. To find out more about the Caroline Cox Endowed Scholarship in Humanities, please contact Jimilynn Dorough at 209.946.2869.