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Karen Odell Austin was born August 12, 1944 in High Point, North Carolina, to John Watson Austin, Jr. and Frances Gordon Lindsay Austin. She died October 31, 2012 at age 68 at Wesley Medical Center in Hattiesburg. She is survived by sister Harriet Austin Mattes of High Point, N. C.; brother John T. Austin (Shauna) of Three Rivers, California; nephew Charles Wesley Mattes, III (Nikita), niece Anna Lynn Austin Qualey (Charles); a great nephew, 2 great nieces, and 7 cousins; and innumerable friends.
Karen graduated from High Point High School in 1962. She obtained degrees from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia (BA in 1966 with majors in French and Spanish), Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vermont (MA in 1967 in Spanish), and the University of Kentucky (PhD in 1977 in Spanish). She also spent a year at the University of Exeter, Exeter, England, as an Honorary Research Fellow in Spanish. She was an Instructor of French at Western Carolina University from 1967-1968.
In 1971 Karen joined the faculty of the Department of Foreign Languages at the University of Southern Mississippi. Four of her translations of the novels of Perez Galdos have been published. She remained at USM after her retirement as Professor Emerita in 1997, teaching as an Adjunct Professor until 2002. Almost from the time of her arrival on campus, she gained the love and respect of her colleagues and students, and that love and respect only increased during her tenure. Though she was active in many aspects of campus life, Karen focused primarily on her department and her students. She initiated the very popular and highly practical Spanish for Law Enforcement program. She spent a summer at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center as a Spanish instructor participating in intensive law enforcement training. She was instrumental in developing the Master of Arts in the Teaching of Languages program which has attracted students from around the world to USM and serves as a model for now-similar programs across the country. An early proponent of study abroad programs, she encouraged her students to travel to Spain or Mexico or Costa Rica to improve their skills; those students fortunate enough to participate in programs led by Professor Austin herself returned home with memories to last a lifetime. In her campus classes she was both demanding and caring and always eager to help struggling students. In retirement she had a private business as a Spanish translator and also interpreted in the Federal Courts and volunteered as a translator for the Hattiesburg Police Department.
Karen loved and spoiled many personal dogs and did a weekly volunteer stint at the Thrift Shop of the Southern Pines Animal Shelter. She created a beautiful landscape on her Oak Grove property which hosted hordes of birds and other welcome creatures and she was a contributor to numerous environmental and animal welfare causes. She was especially generous to the land conservancy that helps preserve her family's farm in North Carolina where she grew up. She thoroughly enjoyed her travels, whether riding a camel down a volcano's crater, swimming with dolphins, planning trips to share with friends in Tuscany (having taught herself Italian), or going on family jaunts. At her death, she was orchestrating a family trip to Cuba.
She loved her family, pets and friends, especially those who took such good care of her in her last days. In her family's tradition, she donated her body to the University Medical Center at Jackson for student learning of another kind. She was adamant in her instructions that there was to be no funeral or memorial service, but friends are encouraged to get together in celebration of her good life and share their stories about her: Karen was a force to be reckoned with. In lieu of flowers, her family and friends would like to recommend gifts in her memory to Southern Pines Animal Shelter or their associated Spay/Neuter Clinic or to the Piedmont Land Conservancy (P. O. Box 4025, Greensboro, NC 27404).
Published in the Hattiesburg American on Nov. 6, 2012