Dr. O’dell Owens, a prominent physician, educator, and health advocate in Cincinnati, passed away on Wednesday, November 23, 2022, due to a heart attack. He was 74 years old. Owens was known for his groundbreaking work in in vitro fertilization, as well as his leadership roles in various health and educational institutions in the region.
A life of overcoming challenges and making a difference
Owens was born in 1947 in the West End neighborhood of Cincinnati, where he lived in poverty with his six siblings and grandmother. His mother died of a stroke when he was 12 years old, and his father moved the family to Detroit three years later. Owens stayed behind with a foster 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 the Yale School of Medicine, where he obtained his medical degree and Master of Public Health. He completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology at Yale, followed by a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Harvard Medical School.
A trailblazer in reproductive medicine and public health
In 1982, Owens returned to Cincinnati as the head of the reproductive division at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. He founded its fertility clinic in 1985 and performed the city’s first in vitro fertilization and first pregnancy from a frozen embryo. He also helped doctors at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden conceive the first gorilla in vitro. He was nationally recognized for his expertise and innovation in reproductive medicine.
Owens also served as the director of endocrinology and infertility at The Christ Hospital, where he established the Center for Reproductive Health. He was the founder and president of OMI Medical Imaging Inc., a network of outpatient diagnostic centers. He also owned several other businesses, including a restaurant and a radio station.
Owens was elected as the Hamilton County Coroner in 2004 and 2008. He used his position to advocate for public health issues such as infant mortality, drug abuse, domestic violence, and organ donation. He also launched several initiatives to educate the community about health risks and prevention strategies.
In 2010, Owens resigned as coroner to become the president of Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. He led the college through a period of growth and expansion, increasing enrollment, graduation rates, academic programs, and partnerships with local employers. He also championed diversity and inclusion efforts at the college.
In 2015, Owens left Cincinnati State to join the Cincinnati Health Department as its medical director and interim health commissioner. He oversaw several public health programs and services, such as immunizations, maternal and child health, chronic disease prevention, environmental health, emergency preparedness, and infectious disease control.
In 2016, Owens became the president and CEO of Interact for Health, a nonprofit organization that supports health education and research in Greater Cincinnati. He retired from this role in March 2021 after five years of service. He also advised Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on the COVID-19 pandemic response.
A legacy of leadership and service
Owens was widely respected and admired for his achievements and contributions to the Cincinnati community. He received numerous awards and honors for his work, such as the Great Living Cincinnatian Award from the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber in 2020. He also served on several boards and committees of various civic and professional organizations, such as U.S. Bank, United Way of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati Museum Center, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Foundation Board of Trustees.
Owens was married to Marchelle Owens since 1976. They had three children: O’dell Jr., Angelita (Lita), and Christopher (Chris). He lived in Amberley Village until his death.
Owens was remembered by many as a visionary leader, a passionate advocate, a generous mentor, and a caring friend. His life story inspired countless people to overcome challenges and make a difference in their fields and communities.
According to The Enquirer, Owens once said: “I wear my heart on my sleeve. I never felt I left the practice of healing.”