Dr. O’dell Owens: A Life of Service and a Sudden Death

Dr. O’dell Owens was a prominent figure in the Cincinnati region, known for his contributions to health care, education, and public service. He was a pioneer in the field of in vitro fertilization, a leader in the fight against COVID-19, and a champion for social justice. He passed away unexpectedly on November 23, 2022, at the age of 74, leaving behind a legacy of excellence and compassion.

A Trailblazer in Reproductive Medicine

Dr. Owens was born in 1947 in the West End neighborhood of Cincinnati, where he faced poverty and adversity from an early age. His mother died of a stroke when he was 12, and his grandmother was forced to sell their house to the city as part of an urban renewal project. He flunked out of eighth grade due to his frequent absences while working odd jobs and caring for his siblings. He was later adopted by a family who encouraged him to pursue his education.

He graduated from Woodward High School and went on to attend Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He spent a year as an exchange student at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where he witnessed the effects of poverty and disease on the population. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Antioch in 1971, and then enrolled at Yale School of Medicine, where he obtained his medical degree and Master of Public Health.

He specialized in obstetrics and gynecology, and completed his residency and fellowship at Yale and Harvard respectively. He became the first reproductive endocrinologist in Cincinnati, and founded the fertility clinic at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in 1985. He performed the city’s first in vitro fertilization and its first pregnancy from a frozen embryo. He also helped conceive the first gorilla in vitro at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden in 1995.

He was nationally recognized for his expertise and innovation in reproductive medicine, and helped thousands of couples achieve their dreams of parenthood. He also advocated for reproductive rights and access to health care for women, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A Leader in Public Health and Education

Dr. Owens was not only a successful physician, but also a dedicated public servant. He was elected as the Hamilton County Coroner in 2004 and 2008, becoming the first African American to hold that position. He used his office to raise awareness about issues such as infant mortality, drug abuse, domestic violence, and gun violence. He also implemented reforms to improve the efficiency and transparency of the coroner’s office.

In 2010, he resigned as coroner to become the president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, where he oversaw the expansion of academic programs, enrollment, facilities, and partnerships with local employers. He also launched initiatives to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion on campus and in the community.

In 2015, he left Cincinnati State to join the Cincinnati Health Department as its medical director and interim health commissioner. He led the department’s efforts to improve public health outcomes, such as reducing infant mortality, increasing immunization rates, preventing chronic diseases, and addressing health disparities. He also collaborated with other agencies and organizations to address social determinants of health, such as poverty, education, housing, and transportation.

In 2016, he became the president and CEO of Interact for Health, a nonprofit organization that supports health promotion and prevention programs in the region. He continued his work on improving health equity and access for underserved populations, as well as fostering collaboration among stakeholders from various sectors.

He also played a key role in advising Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on the COVID-19 pandemic response. He served on the governor’s Minority Health Strike Force, which developed recommendations to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minorities. He also helped coordinate vaccine distribution and education efforts in the region.

A Champion for Social Justice

Dr. Owens was not only a leader in health care and education, but also a champion for social justice. He was an outspoken advocate for racial equality, economic opportunity, civic engagement, and human rights. He used his platform to speak out against racism, discrimination, oppression, and injustice in all forms.

He was involved in various community organizations and initiatives that aimed to empower marginalized groups and promote positive change. He served on the boards of directors of several institutions, such as U.S. Bank (for 29 years), Cincinnati Museum Center (as chair), Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (as vice chair), Greater Cincinnati Foundation (as chair), United Way of Greater Cincinnati (as campaign chair), Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio (as chair), Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber (as vice chair), African American Chamber of Greater Cincinnati Northern Kentucky (as founding member), NAACP (as life member), Leadership Cincinnati (as graduate), Leadership Ohio (as graduate), Leadership America (as graduate), among others.

He also mentored and inspired countless young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, to pursue their education and career goals. He shared his personal story of overcoming challenges and achieving success, and encouraged them to follow their dreams and make a difference in the world.

He received numerous awards and honors for his achievements and contributions, such as the Great Living Cincinnatian Award, the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission’s Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr. Outstanding Humanitarian Award, the Cincinnati Enquirer’s Women of the Year Award (as the first man to receive it), the Cincinnati Business Courier’s Health Care Heroes Lifetime Achievement Award, the Ohio Public Health Association’s Distinguished Public Health Service Award, the Antioch College Horace Mann Award, the Yale School of Medicine Distinguished Alumni Service Award, the Harvard Medical School Alumni Association Excellence in Service Award, among others.

He also received honorary degrees from several institutions, such as Xavier University, Mount St. Joseph University, Northern Kentucky University, and Chatfield College.

A Sudden Death

Dr. Owens passed away unexpectedly on November 23, 2022, at the age of 74. He suffered a heart attack at his home in Amberley Village, and was pronounced dead at 12:05 p.m. at Jewish Hospital. His death shocked and saddened his family, friends, colleagues, and admirers.

He is survived by his wife of 46 years, Marchelle Owens, and their three children: O’dell Jr., a physician; Angelita, a lawyer; and Christopher, an engineer. He also leaves behind six grandchildren and two siblings.

His funeral service was held on November 29 at New Beginnings Church of the Living God in Avondale, where he was a member. His burial was at Spring Grove Cemetery.

His legacy lives on in the lives he touched and the causes he championed. He will be remembered as a visionary, a trailblazer, a leader, a mentor, a friend, and a hero.

Doms Desk

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