Nicola October 30th, 2019

Funeral eulogy, 2 October 2019 Caroline Williams had a rare combination of intellectual gifts and personal warmth. I first met her soon after she joined UCL History Department in 1992. Walking past an open office door, I glimpsed fair hair, twinkly eyes, a ready smile, so I stopped to chat. It was only some way into the conversation that I learned that she was actually in rather a state of shock, because she’d just had her purse stolen by a walk-in thief. I offered coffee and sympathy, perhaps some minor practical help, no more than anyone would have done. It was typical of Caroline that she responded generously a few days later with an invitation to come round for dinner “to say thank you”. So began many years of good conversation, hospitality, affection and sheer fun, all the things that all of you will remember. The fact that Caroline was one of the warmest and kindest people any of us are likely to meet should not distract attention from her other sterling qualities. To mention just three of them here: she had great determination to make the most of things; she had intellectual imagination; and she had courage. The determination was evident from the very start of her academic life. Being a university student is usually a formative experience for anyone who chooses that path. But for Caroline her time at Warwick was especially marked by transition. She started her degree there in 1982 not long after the family had been forced to leave Argentina, where she was born and grew up. Although her friends from the Warwick years recall that she adapted to life in England with characteristic resolve, this was by no means easy for her. At first, she strongly disliked England, which struck her as cold and grey in all respects. It was, after all, the early 1980s. Two experiences changed Caroline’s attitude. The first was becoming a member of the intellectual and social community created by the Comparative American Studies degree, where she made many of the friends who are here today. She threw herself into her studies and did exceptionally well, as one of the best undergraduates they’d ever had. She was also very popular: there’s a lovely moment recalled by her fellow student Jo. They were at a lecture on US foreign policy towards Cuba, which was held in a room up on the third floor of a building. Just as the lecturer began to discuss the many plots by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro, window cleaners suddenly appeared as if by magic outside the windows. Their sudden presence distracted everyone, and Caroline, with her ready wit, suggested that it was more CIA dirty tricks trying to stymie the (admittedly rather anti-US) lecture. The second experience that reconciled Caroline to England came later, while she was doing her PhD, when she met and fell in love with Richard. That was the turning point, the change that enabled her at last to feel truly at home here. They married in 1991 and he was always her anchor, as she often said, giving her a fundamental sense of peace and happiness. As you all know, Caroline was a gifted historian of colonial Latin America and the Atlantic world, with three acclaimed books and a prize-winning article to her name. She made distinguished contributions to the history of cultural encounters between indigenous peoples and Spaniards in Colombia; to the early modern history of Atlantic commercial and cultural exchange; and to the study of the frontier in Central America, an emerging field of historical research which she did much to create. But perhaps what’s most impressive about her intellectual work is the powerful imagination she brought to it. One striking example is the research she did recently with three colleagues from Bristol University School of Earth Sciences, trying to find out what the documents from colonial Latin America might reveal about the patterns and effects of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Many historians tick the box of interdisciplinary work by venturing into dialogue with someone in anthropology or cultural studies, but Caroline boldly set out to bridge the two cultures of the humanities and the sciences. This was real interdisciplinary research, of true originality. And Caroline had a good deal of courage, which was evident in her determination to stand up for what she believed in, even when it was difficult and draining to do so. Most of us have seen her moral courage, but Richard also recalls a dramatic instance of sheer physical guts that took place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He told me: “We were standing on the corner of a street near Copacabana Beach one afternoon, when we were confronted by a mean looking young man, who claimed that he was part of 'The Favela Mafia'. He first asked for some money for 'a sandwich', but having received it, he then demanded, 'all your money'. Stinginess and stubbornness overcame fear, so I refused to hand over any more cash. The confrontation continued for about 20 minutes, with Caroline standing bravely and resolutely by my side, and with the street thief getting increasingly irritated by our calm and recalcitrant demeanour. Eventually Caroline said that she was going to get help, at which point 'Mafia Man' walked off in disgust. No one who confronted the two of us ever got more than the price of a sandwich!” Back at home in Warwick, West London or Bristol, Caroline and Richard created a kind of parallel universe for their family and friends, a world where you could relax and enjoy the good things in life. It was not only beloved nieces, nephews and god-children who were allowed, nay encouraged, to eat vast quantities of chocolate or to spend freely in the shops: her adult friends also found themselves unable to gainsay her charming way of making you indulge yourself, almost whether you wanted to or not. Any event she arranged -- academic or social --would involve frequent coffee breaks, free-flowing wine and a fabulous meal. She loved conversation and discussion and argument -- especially argument, a practice that began around the family dinner-table and which she often pursued tenaciously at her own table. She enjoyed music: from Neapolitan folksongs to tango to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, although inexplicably to Richard she never did appreciate Whispering Bob Harris on the Old Grey Whistle-Test. She loved art and used to enjoy being able to support local artists by picking out another well-chosen piece to fill a space at home. She was always reading novels and we used to argue amicably about whether if forced to choose we would prefer to live without books or music. For her it was always novels that came first: she especially loved Dickens, which makes sense, given his well-known wit, relish for social satire and exuberant evocation of all aspects of human experience. Caroline, too, was endlessly interested in everything. A phrase that’s come up again and again in recollections of Caroline is that she never did anything by halves. This goes right back to her childhood. Her sister Felicity remembers walking to school: with Stephanie singing and Caroline carrying ALL of her books, every day. Anyone who worked with her on academic projects knows her dedication to exhaustive review of the sources, rigorous argument and finely-honed prose. In her insatiable quest for the news, she would surf the websites of international newspapers, deploying an insider’s knowledge of how to maximise the allowance of free content from each one before moving on to the next. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who would willingly devote five hours to making an especially delicious kind of meatballs. More seriously, she sent me the biggest box of flowers I’ve ever seen when my father died. I thought we’d be friends into old age, drinking a bit too much Rioja, letting her persuade me once again to eat too much chocolate, setting the world to rights … It’s hard to accept that’s not going to happen now. But Caroline will stay with me. Over the last few weeks, whenever I’ve wondered if I could be bothered to go the extra mile on something, I’ve been spurred on by thinking, well Caroline would have done. She’s there in my mind’s eye –that quizzical look, that affectionate smile, inspiring me to be more principled, more generous in outlook – and more ready to laugh about life. To be honest, it’s not much consolation right now, but I trust that in time it will be. I’m pretty sure it’s what she would have wanted, for all of us. Caroline Williams had a rare combination of intellectual gifts and personal warmth. I first met her soon after she joined UCL History Department in 1992. Walking past an open office door, I glimpsed fair hair, twinkly eyes, a ready smile, so I stopped to chat. It was only some way into the conversation that I learned that she was actually in rather a state of shock, because she’d just had her purse stolen by a walk-in thief. I offered coffee and sympathy, perhaps some minor practical help, no more than anyone would have done. It was typical of Caroline that she responded generously a few days later with an invitation to come round for dinner “to say thank you”. So began many years of good conversation, hospitality, affection and sheer fun, all the things that all of you will remember. The fact that Caroline was one of the warmest and kindest people any of us are likely to meet should not distract attention from her other sterling qualities. To mention just three of them here: she had great determination to make the most of things; she had intellectual imagination; and she had courage. The determination was evident from the very start of her academic life. Being a university student is usually a formative experience for anyone who chooses that path. But for Caroline her time at Warwick was especially marked by transition. She started her degree there in 1982 not long after the family had been forced to leave Argentina, where she was born and grew up. Although her friends from the Warwick years recall that she adapted to life in England with characteristic resolve, this was by no means easy for her. At first, she strongly disliked England, which struck her as cold and grey in all respects. It was, after all, the early 1980s. Two experiences changed Caroline’s attitude. The first was becoming a member of the intellectual and social community created by the Comparative American Studies degree, where she made many of the friends who are here today. She threw herself into her studies and did exceptionally well, as one of the best undergraduates they’d ever had. She was also very popular: there’s a lovely moment recalled by her fellow student Jo. They were at a lecture on US foreign policy towards Cuba, which was held in a room up on the third floor of a building. Just as the lecturer began to discuss the many plots by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro, window cleaners suddenly appeared as if by magic outside the windows. Their sudden presence distracted everyone, and Caroline, with her ready wit, suggested that it was more CIA dirty tricks trying to stymie the (admittedly rather anti-US) lecture. The second experience that reconciled Caroline to England came later, while she was doing her PhD, when she met and fell in love with Richard. That was the turning point, the change that enabled her at last to feel truly at home here. They married in 1991 and he was always her anchor, as she often said, giving her a fundamental sense of peace and happiness. As you all know, Caroline was a gifted historian of colonial Latin America and the Atlantic world, with three acclaimed books and a prize-winning article to her name. She made distinguished contributions to the history of cultural encounters between indigenous peoples and Spaniards in Colombia; to the early modern history of Atlantic commercial and cultural exchange; and to the study of the frontier in Central America, an emerging field of historical research which she did much to create. But perhaps what’s most impressive about her intellectual work is the powerful imagination she brought to it. One striking example is the research she did recently with three colleagues from Bristol University School of Earth Sciences, trying to find out what the documents from colonial Latin America might reveal about the patterns and effects of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Many historians tick the box of interdisciplinary work by venturing into dialogue with someone in anthropology or cultural studies, but Caroline boldly set out to bridge the two cultures of the humanities and the sciences. This was real interdisciplinary research, of true originality. And Caroline had a good deal of courage, which was evident in her determination to stand up for what she believed in, even when it was difficult and draining to do so. Most of us have seen her moral courage, but Richard also recalls a dramatic instance of sheer physical guts that took place on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He told me: “We were standing on the corner of a street near Copacabana Beach one afternoon, when we were confronted by a mean looking young man, who claimed that he was part of 'The Favela Mafia'. He first asked for some money for 'a sandwich', but having received it, he then demanded, 'all your money'. Stinginess and stubbornness overcame fear, so I refused to hand over any more cash. The confrontation continued for about 20 minutes, with Caroline standing bravely and resolutely by my side, and with the street thief getting increasingly irritated by our calm and recalcitrant demeanour. Eventually Caroline said that she was going to get help, at which point 'Mafia Man' walked off in disgust. No one who confronted the two of us ever got more than the price of a sandwich!” Back at home in Warwick, West London or Bristol, Caroline and Richard created a kind of parallel universe for their family and friends, a world where you could relax and enjoy the good things in life. It was not only beloved nieces, nephews and god-children who were allowed, nay encouraged, to eat vast quantities of chocolate or to spend freely in the shops: her adult friends also found themselves unable to gainsay her charming way of making you indulge yourself, almost whether you wanted to or not. Any event she arranged -- academic or social --would involve frequent coffee breaks, free-flowing wine and a fabulous meal. She loved conversation and discussion and argument -- especially argument, a practice that began around the family dinner-table and which she often pursued tenaciously at her own table. She enjoyed music: from Neapolitan folksongs to tango to Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro, although inexplicably to Richard she never did appreciate Whispering Bob Harris on the Old Grey Whistle-Test. She loved art and used to enjoy being able to support local artists by picking out another well-chosen piece to fill a space at home. She was always reading novels and we used to argue amicably about whether if forced to choose we would prefer to live without books or music. For her it was always novels that came first: she especially loved Dickens, which makes sense, given his well-known wit, relish for social satire and exuberant evocation of all aspects of human experience. Caroline, too, was endlessly interested in everything. A phrase that’s come up again and again in recollections of Caroline is that she never did anything by halves. This goes right back to her childhood. Her sister Felicity remembers walking to school: with Stephanie singing and Caroline carrying ALL of her books, every day. Anyone who worked with her on academic projects knows her dedication to exhaustive review of the sources, rigorous argument and finely-honed prose. In her insatiable quest for the news, she would surf the websites of international newspapers, deploying an insider’s knowledge of how to maximise the allowance of free content from each one before moving on to the next. She’s the only person I’ve ever met who would willingly devote five hours to making an especially delicious kind of meatballs. More seriously, she sent me the biggest box of flowers I’ve ever seen when my father died. I thought we’d be friends into old age, drinking a bit too much Rioja, letting her persuade me once again to eat too much chocolate, setting the world to rights … It’s hard to accept that’s not going to happen now. But Caroline will stay with me. Over the last few weeks, whenever I’ve wondered if I could be bothered to go the extra mile on something, I’ve been spurred on by thinking, well Caroline would have done. She’s there in my mind’s eye –that quizzical look, that affectionate smile, inspiring me to be more principled, more generous in outlook – and more ready to laugh about life. To be honest, it’s not much consolation right now, but I trust that in time it will be. I’m pretty sure it’s what she would have wanted, for all of us. Nicola Miller