Jo Cox was a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. Here, two of her YGL colleagues remember her.
In the passing of Jo Cox, we have lost one of the greatest activists and campaigners of our generation.
It’s a loss that goes far beyond the personal.
Jo’s life was one of service. Not lip-service, but true service. She was a humanitarian who campaigned for human rights in Darfur and Syria; a European who understood the humanity at the heart of European unity; a strategist who rethought child protection, world trade and education.
Jo thought twice about going into politics; she was worried about the toll it would take on her family. But she understood that she had a calling. She had a strong track record of persuading the powerful to act in the interests of the marginalized. It could have been a rapid path to power. But she chose a road less travelled.
Before she was elected, she said that she would turn down any offer of a big political job until she had earned her spurs as a good, old-fashioned constituency MP. This was not a tactical political decision, but one rooted in a deep belief that politicians should first understand and defend the people who elected them.
As one of her constituents remarked, “She was a people person. She wasn’t about power or money.” Or, as the woman in her local fish and chip shop said: “I thought, here was this grammar school and Cambridge lass: she would be posh. But she was lovely.”
Jo brought out the best in everyone, even when she was being tough. She was quick to put people at ease, whether recruiting people to climb her beloved Scottish mountains (turning walkers into mountain-climbers by sheer force of her enthusiasm) or reaching across the aisle in Parliament, where she was admired by politicians of every hue. She could read the same humanity in the eyes of a Darfuri child, a Syrian refugee or a lonely octogenarian.
Over the past few months, as Europe found itself tested by the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War and destabilized by rising extremism and xenophobia, few people in political life or elsewhere have stood so proudly and defiantly for the issues that will truly define our time. Jo spoke out against hatred and extremism in all its forms. She championed inclusion. In her oft-quoted maiden speech to the Commons, she declared: “While we celebrate our diversity … we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” She would want us now to channel her love for others, no matter their race, creed or ideology.
Jo was genuine, which is a quality many people seek and lay claim to, but few truly embody. She withstood the fickle nature of politics and had the clear-sightedness and conviction to act on what mattered. She lived her ideals. She could move seamlessly from creating magical worlds for her children to devoting herself to a stranger in need.
Alongside a lifetime of humanitarian work, she spent her Christmas holidays with her husband Brendan working to support children who had been traumatized by the Balkans War. Jo lived modestly and without affectation; her free time was spent with her wonderful children in a cottage by the Wye, close to nature.
She and Brendan have given their children a charmed, idealistic upbringing, which chimed with her essential values: a pure and uncorrupted love of community, equality, the environment and humanity. She lived for others. Her life and all that she stood for must not be in vain.