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Jonathan Ocko: In Memoriam

NC State’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences announces with great sadness the sudden and unexpected death of Jonathan Ocko, professor and head of the Department of History, on January 22, 2015.

“We mourn Jonathan’s passing, and will miss his intellect, passion, and commitment,” said Dean Jeff Braden. “Although I am confident we will remember fondly his wit, humor, and unflagging good will, I know that today, we mourn the loss of a friend, a colleague, and a leader.”

The dean has appointed Professor David Zonderman to serve as interim head of the department. 

Jonathan Ocko was a highly respected historian of modern China, particularly on the relation of law and society. He earned a Ph.D. from Yale University in Chinese history and taught at Clark University and Wellesley College before coming to NC State as assistant professor in August 1977. He was named a full professor in 1992.

He also served as an adjunct professor of legal history at Duke University’s School of Law, where he taught courses on Chinese legal history and Chinese law and society.

Ocko was instrumental in securing the grant that started Chinese language instruction at NC State University. He also negotiated several institutional affiliations with China. Over the course of his career, he earned prestigious fellowships, including a National Humanities Center fellowship, the Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Abroad Grant and the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities.

Ocko was a passionate proponent of the importance of history and the liberal arts as critical to a college education. He developed a keen interest in and advocated strongly for the digital humanities – work that grew out of his consulting work in China on digital rights management as well as on virtual reality and game software.

In addition to his scholarship, Ocko developed and shared his considerable administrative expertise on behalf of his department, the college, the university, and higher education at large. He led the History Department as head for nearly 13 years. His leadership on campus extended to serving on the Administrative Process Review Committee, among numerous other university-wide initiatives.

“Jonathan was above all a kind person,” said Braden. “Those of us who had the privilege to know him can share stories of his generosity, his enormous spirit, his energy and his determination to make things better, whether for an individual in need, or for the world at large. He cannot be replaced. We will miss him terribly, and remember him fondly, with great admiration.”

Jonathan Ocko leaves behind his wife of 47 years, Aggie Ocko, two sons and their wives, four beloved grandchildren, and countless friends and colleagues. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made in Jonathan Ocko’s memory to the NC State Foundation, earmarked for the History Enhancement Fund. (Campus Box 7016, NC State University, Raleigh, NC 27695-7016).