Saturday, July 9, 2016

Chief of Staff

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.
She went with me to history conferences and immediately became popular, because of her sweet nature and because of her colorful and picturesque attire. I write all of my manuscripts - books, articles, book reviews - in pencil, and Karon has converted all of them electronically for publication. She also has helped greatly with photos.

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. 

My daughter, Dr. Berri O'Neal-Gormley, volunteered to help me produce this blog. My brother, Mike O'Neal - as tech-savvy as his older brother is not - also offered to keep the blog going. But this one is dedicated to my beloved Chief of Staff.


  1. What a wonderful story you have told, Mr. State Historian of Texas. I see why you loved that very competent Chief of Staff. Thank you for sharing so much with us.

    I am saddened that your wife has left this earth. Perhaps to prepare your next "home?"

    Susie (Sharpley) Nelson
    Clark Fork, Idaho

  2. She was loved because she loved. Team O'Neal, thanks for sharing your story

  3. Bill - as I noted to you earlier, this is simply the PERFECT tribute to Karon - her sweet, competent, talented persona, and the loving respect that you two shared. I believe this is truly your all-time absolute best piece of writing. Berri - a wonderfully crafted post, in a very challenging tech environment. I am super proud of you both, You Know Who

  4. God bless you and your family Bill. I'm glad I got to be around Karon.

  5. Rodney and I very sad to hear of Karon's passing. Rodney had her as a teacher both at CHS and Panola. I have been faculty at Panola for the past 8 years and admired Karon's spirit. I always knew it was Christmas time when she broke out her "candy" cane. When I was diagnosed with MS almost 3 years ago, I looked to her spirit as an inspiration.

    I am so sorry for your loss. Karon was and still is truly one of a kind.

    May you find peace in the beautiful memories you have share and the many more you have in your heart.

    With Love,
    Jo Ellen and Rodney Russell

  6. Thank you for sharing this lovely and inspirational tribute. My condolences on your loss. I recall her ebulient nature well from the times we chatted. A wonderful woman.

    Prayers for you and your family.
    Chuck Reid (Carolyn's son)

  7. Thank you for this tribute. Prayers for continued comfort for you and your family.

  8. Bill, first.. my condolences on your loss of such a beautiful, wonderful lady. I had intended to attend her services, but had too many irons in the fire.
    What a joy it must have been to have had her as your "Chief of Staff" these 4 years and not only as just an 'executive' staff member but one willing to roll up her sleeves, dig in getting her hands dirty and help carry the load. What a trooper! But, having done ALL of that WITH her MS makes it all greater still.
    While I haven't read all your blogs, the ones I have read were excellent, so I know Karon proved her worth as COS.
    Berri's certainly filled in aptly with this one and I know Mike will do so as well, on subsequent blogs.
    Finally, a Thank You for serving 'more than aptly' as the State Historian for the Great State of Texas.
    You and your family will continue to be in my prayers.
    Brian A. McDaniel

  9. She taught me Geometry in high school, and was one of my top favorite teachers. I'm sorry to see her go.

  10. Mr. O'Neal,

    I'm both saddened and gladdened to read this.
    Saddened obviously for the absence in our hearts we all feel - never to see her copper hair or bright smile again. She taught me a great deal, and I always thought geometry easy until I spoke with many others through my life. Karon made it easy and enjoyable. She also encouraged me to participate in UIL competitions and Academic Decathlon.

    I'm gladdened, sir, that you two found each other and obviously shared a passion for teaching others, sharing history and sharing your obvious joy. I feel you both enriched each others' lives.

    I'm grateful she is out of pain, but as with many, she left us too soon and leaves a gap in our hearts.
    I hope you find more peace than grief, more love than loss and more happiness than sadness over the coming months and years. You know better than anyone, it was a pleasure to know Karon and she was a wonderful addition to our lives.

    Your (still) noble serf, milord. (And yes, I still wear the chain mail when I can and tell others how you knighted me.)

  11. Mr. O'Neal,

    I am so sorry for your loss. Mrs. O'Neal had such a bright spirit. I pray you find comfort in the days to come. I know you will miss her.

    Amber Friday-Brown

  12. Mr. O'Neal,

    Your wife was my calculus professor at Panola College. I'm so saddened to have heard she passed away. I have so many wonderful memories of my time in her class and at Panola. Thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time!

    Suzanne Pharr

  13. Bill,

    I am heartbroken for you in reading this post. I never had the privilege to meet your wife, but I know she must have been a wonderful and caring person. I feel like I knew her, though the stories that you always shared with me. I will pray for you to find peace with her passing and to be able to relish in your memories of her. Thoughts and prayers from Dallas and I to sweet friend!

    With love and prayers,
    JoNeita Kelly

  14. Bill, Ann and I were so saddened to learn of your loss and our thoughts and prayers are with you. We pray that you have strength to carry on your good work and I was pleased to learn that you will be speaking at Childress next week. Wish we could be there.
    David & Ann Murrah

  15. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I was fortunate to have both of you as my teachers at Panola. She was a wonderful woman and one of the best teachers that I ever had.

  16. I'm so sorry to hear about your loss. I was fortunate to have both of you as my teachers at Panola. She was a wonderful woman and one of the best teachers that I ever had.

  17. Bill, Karen truly was a treasure and will be missed by us all. Please let me know if I may be of assistance in any way.

    Charles Nugent