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Jo Cox: A Memory

Three weeks ago, British Member of Parliament Jo Cox graciously hosted my students and me for dinner in London. And now she is dead.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 16:  Flowers surround a picture of Jo Cox during a vigil in Parliament Square on June 16, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  Jo Cox, 41, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed by an attacker at her constituicency today in Birstall, England. A man also suffered slight injuries during the attack. Jo Cox was reportedly shot and stabbed while holding her weekly surgery at Birstall Library, Birstall near Leeds and later died. A 52-year old man has been arrested in connection with the crime.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 16: Flowers surround a picture of Jo Cox during a vigil in Parliament Square on June 16, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. Jo Cox, 41, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed by an attacker at her constituicency today in Birstall, England. A man also suffered slight injuries during the attack. Jo Cox was reportedly shot and stabbed while holding her weekly surgery at Birstall Library, Birstall near Leeds and later died. A 52-year old man has been arrested in connection with the crime. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 16: Flowers surround a picture of Jo Cox during a vigil in Parliament Square on June 16, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. Jo Cox, 41, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed by an attacker at her constituicency today in Birstall, England. A man also suffered slight injuries during the attack. Jo Cox was reportedly shot and stabbed while holding her weekly surgery at Birstall Library, Birstall near Leeds and later died. A 52-year old man has been arrested in connection with the crime. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Three weeks ago, British Member of Parliament Jo Cox hosted my students and me for dinner in London. She was witty, warm, gracious, singularly insightful with her comments, and unfailingly generous with her time. And now she is dead, murdered yesterday by a deranged constituent in her district, just outside Leeds.

I had not known her previously, but our mutual friend, my fellow professor John Bew, had arranged for her to have dinner with our class of University of Texas-Austin undergraduates during our four-week course in London, which focused on the British-American relationship and world order. (Read John’s moving tribute to her here). At the dinner, she spoke eloquently about the need for Britain to show moral leadership and principled international engagement in its foreign policy. She was particularly emphatic on the Syrian crisis, drawing on her past humanitarian work with Oxfam and other international aid groups. Before arriving at the dinner, she told us, she had just finished authoring a column for theTimes of London on the need for the United States and Britain to intervene forcefully in Syria, specifically to protect the civilian populations under assault and integrate force with diplomacy in negotiating a peace settlement.

To the British political class she was a rising star, already identified by many as a potential future foreign secretary (in John’s poignant words, “the best foreign secretary Britain never had”). To my students, she was also an ebullient and engaging speaker, sharing candidly her background and the trials and joys of politics. After the dinner, several of them commented on how accessible, humble, and inspiring they found her — traits all too rare in political leaders these days, on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite the late hour, she stayed long after dinner for individual discussions and answered countless additional questions.

Three weeks ago, British Member of Parliament Jo Cox hosted my students and me for dinner in London. She was witty, warm, gracious, singularly insightful with her comments, and unfailingly generous with her time. And now she is dead, murdered yesterday by a deranged constituent in her district, just outside Leeds.

I had not known her previously, but our mutual friend, my fellow professor John Bew, had arranged for her to have dinner with our class of University of Texas-Austin undergraduates during our four-week course in London, which focused on the British-American relationship and world order. (Read John’s moving tribute to her here). At the dinner, she spoke eloquently about the need for Britain to show moral leadership and principled international engagement in its foreign policy. She was particularly emphatic on the Syrian crisis, drawing on her past humanitarian work with Oxfam and other international aid groups. Before arriving at the dinner, she told us, she had just finished authoring a column for theTimes of London on the need for the United States and Britain to intervene forcefully in Syria, specifically to protect the civilian populations under assault and integrate force with diplomacy in negotiating a peace settlement.

To the British political class she was a rising star, already identified by many as a potential future foreign secretary (in John’s poignant words, “the best foreign secretary Britain never had”). To my students, she was also an ebullient and engaging speaker, sharing candidly her background and the trials and joys of politics. After the dinner, several of them commented on how accessible, humble, and inspiring they found her — traits all too rare in political leaders these days, on both sides of the Atlantic. Despite the late hour, she stayed long after dinner for individual discussions and answered countless additional questions.

It was a memorable evening. Little did we know that just three weeks later she would be gone. Her death is an unfathomable loss, for the many oppressed and suffering people around the world for whom she had labored, for her country, for Parliament, for the Labor Party, for her many friends, and especially for her husband and two young children.

With the Orlando terrorist attack and now Jo Cox’s murder, the past week has been ghastly, full of horror and heartbreak. Those whom we love, whom we admire — and sadly, whom we take for granted — can be taken from us in a sudden and all too cruel way. For those of us who remain, the words of the psalmist echo with conviction: “teach us to number our days…”

Photo credit: DAN KITWOOD/Getty Images

Will Inboden is the executive director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for History, Strategy, and Statecraft at the University of Texas-Austin. He also serves as an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and as a distinguished scholar at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.

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