“Former Chi Omega National President Kirk Bell Cocke had a gift for words. She noted that our member organizations had too many “pin wearers”- those who accept the badge and all of the privileges and none of the responsibilities. Kirk issued a challenge to us and said: ‘If all of us – active and alumnae – lived up to the reality of our creeds and kept the promises we made when we were initiated, nobody could justify a criticism.’ Wise words that have relevance today…” 2013-2015 NPC Chairman Jean Mrasek, sharing Chi Omega wisdom during her State of the Conference speech at the NPC Annual Meeting.
1938 yearbook photo of Kirk Bell
Kirk Bell was born August 23, 1916 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She was initiated into Nu Beta/Alabama in 1935 and would later go on to be a professor for years at Florida State University, Personnel Advisor to Gamma Chapter, and eventually serve as S.H. from 1979-1988. Kirk also served as S.T.B. 1978-1979, and National Alumnae Officer 1976-1978.
We do not have any information on her first husband, Mr. Cocke, but she later married John Hassell, her childhood sweetheart, when both were older in life. She introduced him to her Chi Omega Sisters at the 1996 Convention, and she was living in Tallahassee, Florida, when she joined the Omega Chapter on January 3, 2000.
Kirk and John at Convention 1996.
Kirk was known for her ability to speak in ways that moved Sisters. Being name a Distinguished Balfour Lecturer was just a small window into her accolades. Her words are timeless, and still shed light on situations the Fraternity faces today. Kirk was dedicated to fervently reiterating the value of the sorority experience, and she never shied away from hard conversations.
In her words, “Just as the moral character of a nation is shaped by the moral character of its citizens, in like manner, the only thing wrong with fraternities or any other organization is the sum total of what is wrong with its individual members.”
Kirk was notorious for addressing “pin wearers” in Chi Omega who only wore the badge, without fulfilling the true duties of Chi Omega. She was also a firm believer in being able to look in the mirror, see your reflection, and be proud of what you see looking back at you.
“Character takes no account of what you are thought to be, but what you are. Character is having that inner light and the courage to follow its dictates. The language of character is behavior. As Emerson said, ‘What you do speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say,” Kirk Bell Cocke in her speech Ethics and Values.
Among the strong rivalries in college football is Auburn vs Alabama. Former S.H. Kirk Bell Cocke Hassell was a proud alumna of the University of Alabama, and serving on the Governing Council with Kirk was Auburn alumna, Patty Disque. They enjoyed their good-natured rivalry for years, going back and forth about each other’s alma mater. Kirk infamously got Patty one night during an introduction when she told the audience that she recently learned of a radio station in the state of Alabama that was having a contest. The second prize was a full scholarship to Auburn. Patty was impressed. Then, Kirk said, “…and the first prize was a case of Coca-Cola!” On continued their constant rivalry!
Kirk had a special bond with one of her S.H. predecessors, Mary Love Collins. Mary Love was easily recognizable in her tailored suit and tie. It’s said that she didn’t want to waste time with frivolous things, like “fashion,” so she’d have a simple suit made by a local tailor in Cincinnati. It was always tradition for someone to dress up as Mary Love for the Night of Revelry at Convention. For many years, the future S.H. Kirk Bell Cocke played the role. Mary Love went along with it and provided a suit and tie for the occasion. Kirk said, “…she [Mary Love] gave me the suit and said, ‘Be careful with it. This is it’s first Convention.'”
Mary Love Collins, left, & Kirk Bell Cocke, right, attending what would be Mary Love Collins’ last Convention in 1970.
The official badge of the S.H. of Chi Omega has 9 full-cut diamonds mounted on the outline of the crest, surrounded by 14 diamonds. The badge was originally given to S.H. Elizabeth Orman in the mid 1970s by the Alumnae of Mississippi. It was later mounted on the crest, as it appears today, during the early 1980s when Kirk Cocke served as National President. Kirk was the first S.H. to wear the badge as we know it today.
Future S.H. Kirk Bell Cocke served in the Coast Guard in WWII.
Future S.H. serving in the Coast Guard in WWII
Jean met Kirk at Convention during her senior year in 1982 when she served as Epsilon Gamma’s G.H. She explained she didn’t have the one-on-one time with her until Kirk visited Tulsa on State Day. While she was there, Kirk wanted to visit the Tau Beta Chapter, and Jean was invited to ride along.
Jean says she didn’t realize it at the time, but riding along with Kirk to Tau Beta served as an informal interview for her. She had applied to be a Chapter Visitor, but had not yet heard back about the decision. Kirk called Jean shortly after their time together to offer her the position to travel for Chi Omega, and Jean excitedly accepted!
Jean describes Kirk as having the upmost southern grace, while also remaining strong and firm in her words and her decisions. Kirk’s two terms as S.H. were very impressive, and in Jean’s words she was “battle tested” on multiple occasions. Jean explained Kirk’s dedication to being involved in the chapters at a local level, offering support and guidance even through some of the most difficult situations.
One of Jean’s fondest memories of the former S.H. was that she had a charm bracelet that would jingle when she talked with her hands. When Jean became S.H. her Chi Omega Sisters who she shared this memory with gifted her a charm bracelet of her own.
What made Kirk’s speaking so moving and memorable?
“She was willing to be direct with people and challenge them and make people feel a little uncomfortable about what they thought Chi Omega was about. She wasn’t afraid to set them straight. Her words are timeless. and they are still relevant today. Coming from an academic background she knew that we had to continue to reiterate the value of the sorority experience and keep telling our story to educate those around us. She used everything as an opportunity to educate and really worked to communicate the ‘why’ behind any decision she made and wisdom she would offer. She was that voice. There was an inflection in her voice that was so recognizable.”
What did you look up to in Kirk?
“She was a tremendous role model. I work in higher education now, and Kirk was a professor. She was scholarly and had tremendous regard for ethics and leadership. She was truly one of a kind. You could sense her compassion through her writing, and she didn’t hesitate to type up a letter to send to someone and it meant a lot to them. She looked for fairness, and was always willing to pick up the phone and have conversations with university officials when necessary. ”
What about Chi Omega was appealing to Kirk?
“Ethics. Leadership. Values. She truly understood and cherished what Chi Omega stood for and what our founders had intended Chi Omega to be. She cherished our dedication to leadership and how well our values served as a moral compass for us. She also cherished the friendships. Kirk loved to laugh and have a good time. She would let down and make fun, and she had great friends in Chi Omega.”
What made Kirk such a special leader?