Those who have worked for Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, say that behind his mild-mannered demeanor is a man determined to accomplish what he sets out to do and that whether or not he succeeds, his enthusiasm for the political process will not falter.
That combination of determination and optimism helped him win a second term in Congress 14 years after 2nd District voters first sent him to Washington, D.C., as their representative. Those same qualities also helped him overcome political losses in the intervening years."He has an amazing capacity to recharge himself," said Scott Matheson Jr., Owens former chief legislative assistant. "He can accept defeat and compromise and yet move on with the same determination and excitement that he started out with."
Owens describes himself as both pleasant and optimistic. The optimism, he said, is a result of being born and raised in the tiny southern Utah community of Panguitch.
"I was born in circumstances that were pretty poor, and I always thought things could get better," Owens said. And early on, he decided Congress was where he could have a hand in making them better.
"Other kids memorized baseball scores while I memorized congressional delegations," he said. "I wanted to be a congressman for as long as I remember."
His career in politics began when,
at 15, he served as Garfield County chairman of the late Cedar City rancher Walter K. Granger's unsuccessful attempt to move from the House of Representatives to the Senate. Owens earned his law degree from the University of Utah in 1964 and took a job with a Salt Lake City law firm.
One of the now-disbanded firm's partners, Wally Sandack, remembers Owens as "a hard-working, earnest young man who even then had his mind on politics and not on the law."
Owens soon was back into politics full-time, as an assistant to both former Sen. Frank Moss, D-Utah, and the powerful Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who was then Senate majority whip. He was also the Western states coordinator for the late Robert Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign.
At 35, Owens ran for Congress and won. Touted as a rising star during his freshman year in Congress, when he served on the committee that voted to impeach former President Nixon, Owens ran for the Senate in 1974. He lost.
Ten years later, he tried to get back into elected office by running for governor. He lost again. But, Owens said, he did not lose his belief that he could make a difference as a politician.
During the 14 years between his terms in Congress, Owens served as president of Canada Montreal mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and resumed his law practice.
Not surprisingly, boundless energy is another characteristic attributed to Owens. It was evident when he walked hundreds of miles around the state to get elected in 1972, and it is still evident as he carries out the duties of his second term.
Matheson and other past and pres-ent employees said that Owens expected them to be able to keep up with him, not always an easy task. "It's more than a full-time job when you work for Wayne Owens," Matheson said.
His wife of nearly 27 years, Marlene Owens, said her husband expects from others what he demands from himself.
"He's a firm believer that one person makes a difference," she said. "And if he can make a difference, certainly other people can."
Owens also expects loyalty, she said, adding that he just doesn't understand why someone wouldn't live up to that expectation. It may be one of the few occasions in which his optimism is shaken.
The Owens' have five children: Elizabeth, 25; Douglas, 24; Sara, 22; Stephen, 20; and Ted, 17.