Carol Ann O’Connor was born to Joseph and Veronica O’Connor in Evanston, Illinois on February 14, 1946. She pursued a life-long interest in local and community studies and became a notable historian of urban America and the North American West. Rooted in her deep love of history and education, her excellence in scholarship and teaching is widely recognized.
Among colleagues, former students, friends and family, the qualities that Carol is best remembered for are her warmth, sense of humor, generosity as well as keen intelligence and professional rigor. The radiance of her smile was particularly noted and is missed.
Carol graduated from Manhattanville College in 1967 and went on to earn her Ph.D. at Yale in 1976. Among her many publications is her 1983 book A Sort of Utopia: Scarsdale, 1891-1981. Carol was on the faculty of Utah State University for 25 years, during which she broadened her focus to include the history of the West, and worked with her colleague and husband, Clyde A. Milner II and Martha A. Sandweiss, on co-editing the highly awarded Oxford History of the American West (1994). Carol and Clyde also co-authored As Big as the West: The Pioneer Life of Granville Stuart in 2009. From 2002 to her retirement in 2012, Carol was professor of history at Arkansas State University and served there as associate dean and then dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. After retirement, Carol remained active in the Western History Association and continued to be recognized as a distinguished scholar locally and nationally.
Carol and Clyde have two children, Catherine Milner, who is now a neonatologist in Tulsa Oklahoma, married to Megan Woslager, and Charles Milner who is now a manager and software engineer at YouTube and married to Ashley Tallevi. One of the greatest joys in the last years of Carol’s life was the arrival of a granddaughter from each of her children, Madeleine Marie Milner (born to Charlie and Ashley) and Caryl Ann Milner (born to Catherine and Megan). These babies definitely ignited that famous smile.
Carol is remembered by former students and colleagues both for her scholarly rigor and for kindness, as her genuine warmth shown through, smiling even when providing tough criticism on a first draft of a dissertation. “Carol demonstrated, each day, that kindness was not the opposite of wisdom but the way in which true wisdom was made incarnate among us. Although it was not on the curriculum, this is the most important lesson she taught me. And I will always remember her smile.” Another former student remembers Carol inviting him to his first Friends Meeting: “I will forever associate the feeling in that circle with Carol, who was full of quiet, self-effacing charity.”
A friend who Carol nurtured through young adulthood remembers that Carol was there at every important turn of her life, teaching essential lessons from cooking to motherhood. “She helped me find my voice. And by being herself, she taught me how to listen, intently, with my whole body.” Through her steady, loving presence, Carol inspired this friend to dream of becoming such a presence for another person in need. “If I’m able to have even a fraction of the grace that Carol showed me, I’ll be able to help change someone's life, the way she changed mine.”
Carol’s petite size and quiet nature was “not to be underestimated” one friend and colleague recounts: “She had a determined confidence” and “steely resolve” in her professional life and integrity in all her interactions. Long-time friends also saw her sense of wonder and delight in her experiences, whether floating down the San Juan River on a raft “grinning into the sun,” or on road trips both as a college student and as a recent retiree. “Here’s the thing, about trips separated by almost half a century. Carol was the same, both times, supremely sensitive and intelligent, and game for singing along to the radio.” During these adventures or sitting around a dinner table, friends remember Carol’s laugh. “ Her eyes would crinkle up with twinkling amusement and she’d erupt with a surprisingly throaty chuckle….her joy lit up the world.”
Carol’s introduction to Friends came when she and Clyde were married on the Yale campus in 1977 under the care of New Haven Quaker Meeting. After they moved to Utah, she was active in Logan Friends Meeting and became a member there in 2000. Their children spent formative years as young Friends in Logan Meeting. While living in Arkansas Clyde and Carol occasionally attended Meetings in Little Rock and in Memphis, Tennessee. After retirement, they moved to Albuquerque in 2014 and transferred their memberships to Albuquerque Monthly Meeting.
Carol and Clyde became integrally involved in the life of Albuquerque Monthly Meeting. Carol served the Meeting in quiet but profound ways, on the Oversight and Counsel Committee, providing compassionate and faithful pastoral care and was active in hospitality at the Meeting House. Her presence and care in the children’s First Day School was deeply valued. A close friend in Albuquerque recalls “Carol was unfailingly reliable and pure fun to work with as we readied the AMM Newsletter for snail mailing each month. She was a steady and gentle friend and neighbor to me, and she knocked me out with her quiet brilliance and transcendent and ready smile. I feel a deep sense of loss at her passing.”
Albuquerque Meeting was sad to see them go in 2021 when they moved to Tulsa to be close to daughter Catherine and family, but so glad that she and Clyde made that move at a time when Carol was needing more medical attention. They both benefited from the support of family. Carol died on November 10, 2022 in Tulsa, Oklahoma of complications from Lewy body dementia. She is survived by her husband, daughter, son, daughters-in-law, granddaughters and brothers John O’Connor of Alpharetta, Georgia and Brian O’Connor of Fairport, New York. She is predeceased by her parents and brother Terence O’Connor.
Contributions to honor Carol O’Connor are requested for Planned Parenthood of America or the Albuquerque Monthly Meeting. A Memorial Meeting of Thanksgiving for Carol’s life will be held under the care of Albuquerque Monthly Meeting on April 29, 2023.