Barbara Backus McCorkle

Obituary
  • "If there had been many more Bobbis in America in the 20th..."
    - Rick Smith
  • "Tony I am sorry for the loss of your mother. She clearly..."
    - Tad Scales
  • "I loved working for her and getting to know her in the last..."
    - Ashley Causer
  • "Richie, Tony and the entire Backus family and extended..."
    - Kristi Kouloukis
  • "My wonderful Nana: thank you for wonderful childhood..."
    - Chandler McCorkle

Barbara Jean Swanton Backus McCorkle passed away quietly and comfortably in her sleep on Wednesday, November 1, age 97. She was born Sept. 9, 1920, in New York City. The younger of two sisters, Bobby, as she was known to everyone, was a most remarkable person. Gifted with rare intelligence and boundless compassion, she was yet devoutly practical, living life as it presented itself, and always with great clarity and excitement.

Her early life was difficult, with a father who, suffering from the scars of World War I, became emotionally distant and unable to work, forcing her mother to become the family breadwinner. With their mother working, Mom and her sister, Dottie, went to live with their Auntie Bess and Uncle Bob in New Haven, Connecticut.

Bess and Bob did their best to raise the young sisters, but Mom did not have the delightful childhood she gave us, a world surrounded by warm, interesting and loving parents and wonderful, accepting and intelligent siblings. We were lucky to have as our early friends our brothers and sisters, an environment fostered by Mom, and of course her great love, our father, Oswald P. Backus III.

Mom received her undergraduate degree from Hunter College in 1942, and in her mid-40s she pursued a graduate degree in library studies at Emporia State University Teachers College, working upon graduation as an associate librarian at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. Following Dad's death, in 1972, she was head of the reference department and the map curator at Sterling Memorial Library at Yale University. Through all of this, she carved out a career as a pre-eminent carto-bibliographer, publishing her magnum opus, "New England in Early Printed Maps, 1513-1800," in 2001, at the age of 81. Her last publication, "A Carto-Bibliography of the Maps in 18th Century British and American Geography Books," was published in 2009, when she was 89.

Bobby's son Tony recalls sharing the details of Mom's life with the hospice nurses shortly before she died, and how strongly it struck him as he relayed her life story that what to us were everyday experiences sounded to them like an amazing and exotic life. Mom did a lot, and came a long way. She created in her own family the world she didn't have as a child. Wherever she was, Mom made an amazing nest and an inviting place to live. We so fondly remember the living room and dining room in Nokkala, Finland, and the dinners we made and the table we sat at. We remember Staufenberg, Germany, and our house in the village, and the kitchen and the bread and the farmers' fresh milk, and the Christmas decorations and seemingly thousands of Christmas cookies she baked every year. What an adventure she was having!

It's sad that Dad died so young in the middle of their great life together, but she carried on and filled her adult world with wonderful, smart and caring people, marrying Dad's old college roommate, George McCorkle, with whom she shared 20 fantastic years of love and productive research. She had a thing for smart men. And smart men had a thing for her.

She made that happen, and we, her children and grandchildren, see it and live it ourselves. We owe her a huge debt of gratitude, not just for the love we have for her as our mom, but for being a strong, unique and loving person, and inspiring us to be the same.

Mom said she would not like a "churchy" funeral of any kind, and none is planned. She once told her granddaughter Sara Clymer that it is okay to be sad for a couple of days after she dies, but then to celebrate and have a party or something in her honor.

Although her first born, our sister Penny, died all too young, Mom leaves behind a mob of Backi, including her children, Frances (Clymer), Robert , Oswald IV, Anthony and Richard; and step-children, grandchildren, and their spouses and children. She also leaves behind hundreds of admiring friends and colleagues, who like us are sad at the thought we're never again to be greeted by her smiling countenance and learn from her insightful mind. Yet we're all so thankful and better in this life for having known and loved her, and having been known and loved by her.

A celebration of her life is planned for 5 p.m. on Friday, November 24, at the Ecumenical Campus Ministries, 1204 Oread Avenue.
Religious Service Information
Ecumenical Christian Ministry
1204 Oread Ave
Lawrence, KS 66044
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Published in Lawrence Journal-World on Nov. 12, 2017
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