Ida Stephens Owens was a wife, mother, grandmother, ground breaker and renowned scientist.
Born on September 13, 1939 in Whiteville, North Carolina, she was the fifth of six children born to James Anthea and Estelle Stephens. Her friends described her as an intellect, a firecracker, a special person, and so fun loving. She enjoyed nothing more than spending time with friends and family. She graduated from Mt. Olive High School in 1957. In the fall of the same year, she joined the class of 1961 at North Carolina College at Durham, now North Carolina University Central University, where she pledged the Alpha Chi Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelors of Science in Biology.
She married Herbert W. Owens in 1962, her college sweetheart shortly after graduation. They later welcomed Lisa Michelle Owens in 1967 and Jeffrey W. Owens in 1973.
As a result of her stellar academic achievement, she was recruited to Duke University’s Graduate School in 1962 by Dr. Daniel C. Tosteson, the Chair of the Department of Physiology. This was an honor bestowed on very few. She received her Ph.D. in physiology in 1967, becoming the first African American woman to receive a doctorate from Duke. After post doctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in drug metabolism, she went on to establish a highly regarded research lab at NIH that was recognized nationally and internationally for its studies on the genetics of human diseases. She was the first to determine genetic defects in children with Crigler-Najjar Disease, a rare disorder affecting the metabolism of bilirubin.
Throughout her career she remained committed to training others in her lab as well as giving back to students and other members of the Duke University community. In 2013, Ida became the inaugural recipient of the Duke Graduate School Distinguished Alumni award and was honored with the film The Education of Ida Owens: Science, Civil Rights and the Integration of Duke University, directed by Ivan Weiss.
Ida enjoyed attending the theater with her dear friends for decades. She fearlessly enjoyed traveling for work and pleasure and she loved to laugh.
Ida returned home on February 24, 2020 and is survived by her husband Herbert Owens, son Jeffrey Owens, daughter Lisa Owens, son in law Darryl Settles, and grandchildren Taylor and Preston Settles as well as sister Gwendolyn Bradley and brother Benjamin Stephens. Her memory will also be cherished by a host of relatives and dear friends.
As an expression of sympathy, the family wishes to honor Dr. Owens' legacy with support of the STEM graduate students of underrepresented groups through the Duke Bouchet Society with memorial contributions to The Duke Graduate School Annual Fund noting that the gift is “in honor of Ida Stephens Owens.” Donations can be made at http://tiny.cc/IdaOwens.
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