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Renowned local health leader Dr. O'dell Owens has died

dr. o'dell owens

Dr. O'dell Owens, a longtime health leader in Cincinnati, has died, WVXU has confirmed. He was 74.

Owens wore many hats in the area — Hamilton County coroner; Cincinnati State Technical and Community College president; Cincinnati Health Department medical director; and, most recently, president and CEO of Interact for Health, a position he retired from in March 2021. At that time, he said he planned to spend his retirement volunteering "to support community groups on the regional response to the COVID-19 pandemic," and even advised Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on the state's COVID response.

Prior to his many leadership roles in the local health community, Owens was a renowned obstetrician. He earned his medical degree at Yale, and studied reproductive endocrinology at Harvard Medical School before returning home to Cincinnati in 1982 and establishing an in vitro fertilization program at the UC Medical Center.

He's credited with Cincinnati's first successful in vitro conception and delivery, and the first pregnancy from a frozen embryo in 1988.

The walls of his medical offices were lined with framed photos of all the babies born to his patients over the years.

"Dr. Owens took care of our community from cradle to grave," read a statement from Interact for Health following his death. "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."

Owens also was a longtime chairman and volunteer for WCET-TV's Action Auction, and was honored with a mural on the Central Parkway side of the Crosley Telecommunications Center, which houses the station, in August 2021. He was a passionate believer in the importance of public television in educating children.

CET President Kitty Lensman calls his passing a shock to the entire community.

"He was a complete advocate for CET and everything that public television stood for. Dr. Owens became such a successful individual and he did most of that on his own. He understood what it meant to be educated and to try to be a better person," she told WVXU.

His one elected office was as Hamilton County Coroner, which he won twice. After leaving that office, he was often mentioned as a potential candidate for Cincinnati mayor. Though he was interested, he never became a candidate.

"We are truly saddened to hear of the sudden passing of Dr. Odell Owens," says the Hamilton County Coroner's office in a statement. "During his more than 5 years as coroner he continued his life’s mission of positively impacting the lives of young people by encouraging them to stay in school, seek higher education and make good social choices. His legacy within the Cincinnati community is without question, and his impact will continue."

Nearing his retirement last year, he told WVXU's Cincinnati Edition how he first became interested in medicine.

"It really got a real jolt when my mother died suddenly one night," he said. "...Her dying suddenly — literally died overnight — certainly galvanized me to that. And then I had a great love of science and I wanted to be a doctor; went to Walnut Hills (High School), but I flunked out of Walnut Hills. After my mother died, my whole life just collapsed. But there were people who continued to inspire me, people who still had confidence in me, who always encouraged me, kept saying, 'We see more in you than you see in yourself, just hang in there.' And then I just blossomed."

His death was unexpected, according to his family.

Updated: November 23, 2022 at 3:44 PM EST
Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.
Howard Wilkinson joined the WVXU News Team after 30 years of covering local and state politics for The Cincinnati Enquirer. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Wilkinson has covered every Ohio governor’s race since 1974 as well as 12 presidential nominating conventions. His streak continued by covering both the 2012 Republican and Democratic conventions for 91.7 WVXU. Along with politics, Wilkinson also covered the 2001 Cincinnati race riots; the Lucasville Prison riot in 1993; the Air Canada plane crash at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in 1983; and the 1997 Ohio River flooding. The Cincinnati Reds are his passion. "I've been listening to WVXU and public radio for many years, and I couldn't be more pleased at the opportunity to be part of it,” he says.
Jennifer Merritt brings 20 years of "tra-digital" journalism experience to WVXU, having served in various digital roles for such legacy publications as InStyle and Parade, as well as start-ups like Levo League and iVillage. She helped these outlets earn several awards, including MIN's 2015 Digital Team of the Year. She graduated from Rutgers University with a journalism major and English minor and has continued her education with professional development classes through the Poynter Institute, Columbia University and PMJA. Before moving to Cincinnati from New York in 2016, she vowed her son would always call it "soda" and not "pop." She has so far been successful in this endeavor.
Ann Thompson has years of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting. She has reported for WKRC, WCKY, WHIO-TV, Metro Networks and CBS/ABC Radio. Her work has been recognized by the Associated Press and the Society of Professional Journalists. In 2019 and 2011 A-P named her “Best Reporter” for large market radio in Ohio. She has won awards from the Association of Women in Communications and the Alliance for Women in Media. Ann reports regularly on science and technology in Focus on Technology