A memorial site for Jo Cox at Parliament Square in London. (Garry Kinight / Flickr)

The brutal murder of Jo Cox, a Labour Party member of the British Parliament, shocked a conflicted nation and the onlooking world. But while her death Thursday in the northern English town of Birstall has captured much of the media’s focus in the last few days, we’d like to take a look at her too-short life and her life’s work. Cox was born in the West Yorkshire town of Heckmondwike to working-class parents and became the first in her family to obtain a higher education. She recounted her time at Cambridge University as an eye-opening experience in which she began to understand the strongly defined British class differences. While Cox spent her summers working at a toothpaste factory in Leeds with her father, her classmates spent their time traveling and networking, she explained in a recent interview with the Yorkshire Post.
“I never really grew up being political or Labour. It kind of came at Cambridge where it was just a realisation that where you were born mattered, that how you spoke mattered … who you knew mattered. I didn’t really speak right or knew the right people. … To be honest, my experience at Cambridge really knocked me for about five years.”
She excelled academically at Cambridge despite daunting beginnings, and went on to work as a political adviser to several female politicians, including Glenys Kinnock, former member of the European Parliament and wife of Neil Kinnock, former leader of the Labour Party, who quoted the British poet Shelly in his tribute to Cox, calling her “a day-star of the age.”
Cox joined the international charity Oxfam in 2002, where for seven years she held positions as head of the European Union office, head of policy and advocacy, and, finally, head of humanitarian campaigning. Then she worked until 2011 as director of the Maternal Mortality Campaign alongside Sarah Brown, a British campaigner for global health and education. She also campaigned for Save the Children and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, chaired the Labour Women’s Network, and served as an adviser to the Freedom Fund on slavery, as well as to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. When elected in 2015 as the member of Parliament to represent Batley and Spen, the constituency where she grew up, she said in her first speech before her peers that she couldn’t be prouder to be “made in Yorkshire” and part of a diverse community that had welcomed immigrants from disparate parts of the world. Never losing her northern accent as a testament to her roots, Cox was described in tributes as a “lion” in Parliament, while more personal accounts highlighted her adventurous flair, such as her realizing she was pregnant with her first child while climbing on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. In London, rather than live in an expensive home, she and her husband, Brendan, who works for the United Nations, lived with their two young children on a converted barge, said to be the site of numerous parties and women-only MP gatherings.