After I was sworn in as State Historian of Texas in 2012 by Governor Rick Perry, my wife Karon smiled and announced that she would serve as my Chief of Staff. There were chuckles around the room, but I knew that Karon had every intention of committing her considerable abilities to the office of Texas State Historian.
When we married in 1993, Karon began to refer to us as "Team O'Neal." Karon and I were faculty members at Panola College in Carthage, her home town. A 1979 graduate of Carthage High School, Karon was an honor student at Panola College and played a busy role in student activities, especially in the music department. She majored in mathematics at Texas A&M University (Class of '83), and soon earned a Master's Degree in math at Stephen F. Austin State University. After six years as lead math teacher at Carthage High School she joined the Panola College math faculty. She became a master teacher, and served for several years as chair of the Math and Science Department.
Meanwhile, she generously aided my efforts in the field of history. Twice per summer she drove one of the two college vans across the Lone Star State during my Traveling Texas History classes. She served as women's counselor during my Traveling European History courses. Karon accompanied me on research trips, usually in the West, greatly accelerating my efforts.
So when Karon stated that she intended to be Chief of Staff of the Texas State Historian, I knew that I was going to enjoy exceptional assistance from a hard-working, competent, and dedicated volunteer. During the past four years my Chief of Staff has attended programs with me throughout Texas. At the San Jacinto Monument on April 21, 2014, she snapped photos as I delivered the keynote address, then she posed - rammer in hand - with a reenactor cannon crew.
At fourth-grade Texas history cowboy programs she wore Lone Star boots and buckskin gauntlets and a big hat, and during my presentations she quietly pointed to various items of cowboy attire as I referred to them. The little girls, especially, were mesmerized.
In addition to helping with my manuscripts, Karon learned to create blogs. My predecessor, Dr. Light Cummins, posted blogs during his two-year tenure. When we read them, Karon and I realized it was essential for us to continue the State Historian blog. At first we posted at lonestarhistorian, but after Google purchased Blogspot we posted at lonestarhistorian2. Between these two sites we have posted nearly 200 blogs during the past four years. Each week I write up my recent history adventures - in pencil, of course - and Karon types it and inserts several photos that we have taken of the subject events. It was quite a learning process for Karon - a process I never could have mastered - but she persevered, as always and she has produced one blog after another.
Until this one. A few days ago Karon died suddenly and unexpectedly - she was only 55. She had suffered from MS for more than 15 years, but we continued to travel and research and write and visit our family - four daughters, three sons-in-law and seven grandchildren, who loved to play and read with "GrandKaron." We were about to leave on a trip to watch a granddaughter play basketball last week when Karon's heart stopped beating. There has been a tremendous outpouring of sorrow and love in Carthage and at Panola College, where the school flag was flown at half mast. Central Baptist Church was packed with with hundreds of mourners during her funeral services.