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