Marlene Owens quietly influenced others during a lifetime of service

Published: Saturday, Nov. 20 2010 12:55 a.m. MST

Marlene Owens, widow of Congressman Wayne Owens, passed away on Sunday.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

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Marlene Owens wouldn't have wanted this written about her.

She would have thanked me, but not without saying, "You didn't have to do that."

The widow of the late Congressman Wayne Owens, she skillfully dodged the spotlight shone on her husband until she passed away Sunday.

But while she avoided attention, she was no recluse.

After their children were grown, she left family and friends in Salt Lake City to join her husband in Washington, D.C. She took a teaching job in a public school where she was one of the few white faces in the building.

She likely was one of those teachers whom students always remember — for good. I know because I was one of those who benefited from her keen eye for spotting people who needed a lift and her good sense for how to help.

She and her husband presided over the LDS Church's Canada Montreal Mission, where I served during their last year there. When President Owens asked me to be the mission financial secretary, I was flattered but despondent.

I feared anything to do with math and felt out of place in an office. Apparently, I didn't mask my feelings too well because Sister Owens didn't hesitate to ask me why I looked so down and lost.

I can't remember what I said to her. But I will never forget her response. We had planned a surprise birthday party for President Owens. But Sister Owens stunned both her husband and me by arriving at the office with a cake a day early, which was my birthday.

The small gesture shook me out of my slump and was one of many turning points on my mission.

Another moment that has stayed with me was a lesson she taught a group of missionaries about how we influence people we don't know are watching us.

I was watching Marlene Owens after I returned from Canada because the Owens family lived in my home ward. A couple had just divorced, and I noticed Marlene was among the few who didn't have the mistaken instinct to leave grieving people alone.

Instead of sitting with her family during church services, Marlene Owens sat with the woman who was suddenly single in the church where she raised her family.

Today, I will attend Marlene's funeral in that same chapel. I will be among the many who she didn't know were watching and were influenced by her for good.

e-mail: mbrown@desnews.com

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