Joseph E. Owens – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army

From a contemporary press report:

Joseph E. Owens, 81, the former Maryland Democratic state delegate from Montgomery County who gained a reputation while chairing the House Judiciary Committee as an energetic killer of bills, died of a cerebral hemorrhage May 18, 1999 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Starting in 1970, Mr. Owens was elected four times to represent Montgomery’s District 19, stretching from Rockville through Wheaton to Silver Spring.

Mr. Owens, a retired Army officer who had a law practice in Rockville, established a conservative voting pattern in his first term, voting against Medicaid funding for abortion, opposing collective bargaining for county employees and supporting capital punishment and state pension reform.

“I had a problem with too much government and too many laws,” the gruff-speaking Mr. Owens said in a 1977 interview. He became Judiciary Committee chairman in 1973.

As director of the most conservative committee in the House of Delegates and one of the most powerful men in the legislature, he was responsible for directing floor fights over a number of emotional issues. He was said to enjoy the spotlight, which often made him the target of reformers.

After one hearing on a bill to ban job discrimination against gays, it was reported that Mr. Owens’s staff hustled him off to his office to avoid reporters, apparently fearful that he would repeat the kind of intemperate remarks against gays that had gotten him in trouble in previous interviews.

In the early 1980s, he was the focus of an intense lobbying campaign by residents supporting a package of anti-drunken driving legislation. The bills had passed the Senate but were stuck in Mr. Owens’s committee.

Members of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and other groups picketed Mr. Owens, saying he was the only roadblock to stricter legislation.

Some fellow delegates said Mr. Owens was not necessarily the impediment, pointing out that many on the lawyer-laden Judiciary Committee shared his conservative views.

Mr. Owens favored alternative legislation that would take away driving privileges from underage drinkers. He maintained that stricter laws would clog the courts with more drunken-driving cases and result in charges being plea-bargained down to lesser charges.

But in 1981, he reversed his opposition, and the committee voted for legislation that eventually raised the drinking age in Maryland from 18 to 21.

Mr. Owens’s legislative career came to a close after he was defeated in the 1986 primary. Then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer (D) named him deputy secretary of the Department of Licensing and Regulation. He served in part as a liaison to the legislature and remained in the state job until 1995.

Mr. Owens, who lived in Rockville, was a Washington native and a graduate of McKinley Technical High School. He received a law degree from Columbus University, now part of Catholic University.

He served in the Army infantry during World War II. As a platoon leader with the combat engineers, he participated in invasions of North Africa and Sicily and the Omaha Beach landing in France. At Omaha Beach, a parachute flare exploded in his right hand, and he lost parts of two fingers.

He was awarded a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Mr. Owens later served in the Army in postings that included Korea and Germany. After retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1962, he opened his law practice, which he maintained until last month.

Mr. Owens was former treasurer of the Montgomery County Bar Association and president of the Wheaton Woods Citizens Association, the post that helped propel him into politics. He was a member of the Friends of St. Patrick, the Shrine of St. Jude, the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Survivors include his wife of 40 years, Trudy Owens of Rockville; a stepson, Ed Herrmann of Gaithersburg; a sister, Eileen Parker of Silver Spring; and four brothers, Emmet Owens of Anacortes, Wash., John Owens of Washington, Dermot Owens of College Park and James Owensof Medford, Mass.

OWENS, JOSEPH E., Lt. Col. USA (Ret.)

On Tuesday, May 18, 1999, JOSEPH E. OWENS, of Rockville, MD. Beloved husband of Trudy Owens; step-father of Ed V. Herrmann; brother of Emmet, John, Dermot and Jimmy Owens and Eileane Parker. Mass of Christian Burial at Shrine of St. Jude, 12701 Veirs Mill Road, Rockville, MD, on Monday, May 24, at 10 a.m. Interment Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, June 3 at 9 a.m. Memorial contributions may be made to the charity of your choice.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment