History and Art History
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

History Alum Overcomes Obstacles to Complete Ph.D.


Charles H. Byrd II, who received his M.A. in History at GMU in 2004, has just completed his Ph.D. in History and Religion at the University of Birmingham, England. This in itself is not unusual, as we regularly have graduates of our MA program go on to do a Ph.D. What makes Charlie’s story so heartwarming and inspirational, however, are the significant roadblocks he had to overcome along the way. Charlie came to Mason after working for 23 years as a field agent for the FBI based in the Washington DC area. Instead of taking a desk job, he opted to further his education and entered our MA program, which he completed in May 2004. His interest in the Reformation, and especially the similarities between the sixteenth-century Anabaptists and modern-day Pentecostalism, in which he grew up, sparked his imagination.

Charlie took German language classes to improve his German along with his History classes at Mason, and then departed for the University of Oxford, where he completed another M.A. degree in Reformation history in 2008. He wanted to go on for a Ph.D., but even Oxford did not have anyone who could supervise his interests in both Anabaptism and Pentecostalism. So, in 2009 he found an ideal program for him at the University of Birmingham, where Dr. Elaine Fulton, a specialist on the Reformation in the Holy Roman Empire in the History Dept. and Prof. Allan Anderson, a specialist on the history of Pentecostalism in the Religion Dept., jointly agreed to supervise his Ph.D. dissertation. He completed his two-year residency requirement, did his archival research, and then returned home and started writing drafts of chapters.

In September 2014, however, Charlie suffered a serious heart attack that required multiple bypass surgery at Fairfax Hospital. As difficult as that was, he suffered a far more serious setback when he contracted an infection during his surgery that his doctors could not combat. He went into a coma and had to remain in the hospital for three months. He did recover, but Charlie had lost nearly one-fourth of his body weight during his hospital stay. He then was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he remained for an additional month. And then his devoted wife Patsy continued to nurse him back to health at home, where he continued to receive further physical therapy for an additional eight months. He was only able to return to his dissertation in 2016, and he submitted it for his examiners in 2017. After a few minor corrections, he resubmitted it in December 2017, and his examiners duly awarded him the Ph.D. As Mack Holt, his advisor at Mason, said, “Charlie is an inspiration, and we are all so proud of him for what he has accomplished, not just as a historian, but as a human being.” Charlie will turn 75 on March 1, 2018, and he plans to publish his dissertation and continue to do research and write.

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