Dr. O’dell Moreno Owens, a leader in health care and education in the Cincinnati region for decades who also was twice elected Hamilton County coroner, died Wednesday afternoon. The former fertility doctor was 74.
Who is Dr. O’dell Owens?
Dr. O’dell Owens born and raised in Cincinnati’s West End, Owens held a medical degree and a master’s degree in public health from Yale University, where he also completed his residency, in obstetrics and gynecology. He completed a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology at Harvard Medical School and served as a clinical instructor in reproductive endocrinology.
Dr. O’dell Owens has been selected to receive the first Clara Barton Humanitarian of the Year award from the Greater Cincinnati Tri-State Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Some in the audience were captivated by Owens’ moving and emotional speech when he received the prize and questioned why he wasn’t running for mayor of Cincinnati. Owens was well aware of how vehement his talks could be. He attempted to communicate without a stethoscope. In a 2022 interview, Owens said, “I wear my heart on my sleeve. “I never felt like I quit the therapeutic practice.”
Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco, the coroner who took over for Owens, remarked that people “liked the fact he would stand up for what he believed in and was extremely honest in what he had to say.” Some in the audience were captivated by Owens’ moving and emotional speech when he received the prize and questioned why he wasn’t running for mayor of Cincinnati.
Dr. O’dell Owens Career
When Owens moved back to Cincinnati in 1982, he started an IVF program at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He accomplished the first successful conception, birth, and pregnancy from a frozen embryo in Cincinnati.
In an interview earlier this year, he remarked, “I made a pledge to myself that since I had some mark of success – much beyond what I was intended to be – I had to go back.” Coroner Owens was chosen in 2004 and re-selected in 2008. He held the positions of interim Cincinnati health commissioner and president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College.
His extensive list of volunteer work includes serving on the boards of the Cincinnati Fire Foundation, the Ronald McDonald House, the Cincinnati Business Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, and the Carl H. Lindner Jr. Family Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden. He oversaw the Cincinnati Preschool Promise as its chairman.
For 29 years, he was on the U.S. Bancorp board of directors and had served on the boards of UC, Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, Cincinnati Red Cross, Fine Arts Fund (now ArtsWave), and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. For 10 years, he has volunteered as chair of the annual CET Action Auction that supports Cincinnati’s public television programming.
Dr. O’dell Owens Childhood
According to the Enquirer, Owens claimed in the interview that he had always tried to assist kids who could relate to him because he had seen bigotry and poverty as a Black youngster growing up in Cincinnati when his mother passed away when he was still a small child.
The father of Owens, who raised seven kids alone, battled his “demons” of drinking and gambling. And young dell discovered his family was struggling. Because I always brought my two cans to school for the impoverished families, he recalled being hurt when someone handed us a basket on Thanksgiving.
Owens’ credited Dr. Clinton Buford, a Black surgeon, his wife Cathryn Buford of Cincinnati, and their extended family. Owens babysat for the Buford family as a teenager and they took him in and paved a path for him to enter college.
At the end of 2020, Owens donated 54 acres that he owned in Walton, Kentucky, to the city to become a park.
Owens in priority of improving Cincinnati area
For Owens, the improvement of the Cincinnati region, especially its health, has always been a top priority. Last week, he stated to an Enquirer reporter: “I’m saddened because we have made some progress in some areas, but we still have a long way to go. I’m in my later years. We require a collective impact if we are to effect genuine change. Because we lack a common will, I’ve claimed that Cincinnati lacks collective influence.”
The region as a whole responded to Owens’ passing and the effects of his life. Flags at city buildings in Cincinnati were to be flown at half-staff in Owens’ honor, per a city manager’s directive.
City Manager Sheryl Long has ordered all flags be lowered to half-staff due to the passing of Cincinnati community & health care leader Dr. O’Dell Moreno Owens. Read the City Manager’s full statement honoring Dr. Owens below: pic.twitter.com/yZwo2o2QJA
— City of Cincinnati (@CityOfCincy) November 23, 2022
In a statement, the board and employees of Interact for Health claimed that “Dr. Owens took care of our community from cradle to grave.” He served as a trailblazer, a mentor, a friend, and a leader to many.
Pastor of New Beginnings Church of the Living God in Avondale, the Rev. Ennis Tait, said that Owens “spent his life providing life, establishing pathways, creating possibility.” “He opened kids’ eyes to what could be when he spoke to them. even when they were informed what was impossible. He demonstrated to them the possibility of realising their aspirations.
In Memories of Owens
Owens’ daughter Morgan released this statement regarding his death:
My dad was everything. My family and I are at a loss. My father gave so much to this world, his lifelong mission was to make a difference. He certainly did. He touched so many lives, Dad your legacy will live on. Please keep our family in your thoughts and prayers.
I was just with Dr Odell Owens this past Saturday. I am devastated to hear the news of his passing. We loss a giant leader and I loss a family friend. I can’t believe this. Sending prayers to the Owens family. 🙏🏽 pic.twitter.com/CbvpSvYFjZ
— alicia reece (@aliciareece) November 23, 2022
The staff and Board of Interact for Health are deeply saddened by the death of Dr. O’dell Owens, our former President, and CEO. We extend our condolences to his wife Marchelle, and children Christopher, Justin, and Morgan.
Dr. Owens took care of our community from cradle to grave. He was a trailblazer, a leader, a friend, and a mentor to many. During his four and a half years at Interact for Health, Dr. Owens worked to improve access to health care via school-based health centers, reduce tobacco use, address the opioid epidemic, and improve health equity in the region. His contributions to the foundation were part of a long career to improve health in Greater Cincinnati. He will be deeply missed, and his legacy will continue to inspire work for years to come.