Former Hamilton County Chancellor Robert Vann Owens, 86, died on Tuesday, March 13, 2018.
Born in Birmingham, Al., Vann grew up in Chattanooga attending City High School. He attended Auburn University where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering. At Auburn, he won many honors but maintained his greatest accomplishment was winning the heart of Janice Williams, to whom he married and shared 56 years before her death in 2009. He attended Auburn on a Naval ROTC scholarship and was commissioned Ensign, U.S. Navy. He served for three years, serving in the Korean War. Later, he was employed at NASA as a wind tunnel test engineer in Huntsville, Al.. He was the author of numerous reports and reference bulletins concerning missiles and space configuration aerodynamics.
After three of his children were born, and with a desire to help people, he entered law school. He graduated top of his law class at UT Knoxville. In 1963 he joined the Chattanooga firm of Bishop, Thomas, Leitner, Mann and Milburn where he later became a senior partner. He utilized his aeronautical engineering in several cases involving serious plane accidents and even became a pilot to further his knowledge.
He was offered the position of Chancellor upon the death of Wilkes Thrasher in 1984. He was then elected to an eight year term in 1990 and retired in 1998. He loved the responsibilities of a judge and found great satisfaction in deciding cases according to the law, equity and conscience. He had many tough cases and made some unpopular decisions when he thought it was right and with the law. He also loved the many adoptions he performed.
Chancellor Owens served as president of the Tennessee Trial Judges and president of the Tennessee Trial Conference. He served a term as the Presiding Judge in the 11th Judicial District. He was also a former member of the Erlanger Hospital Board of Trustees. Erlanger was his hospital of choice and he received excellent care from many nurses, techs and physicians.
He was a compassionate champion for those marginalized by life circumstances. He was a lifelong learner, and pursued with passion any new interest including bridge, tennis, flying, computers, photography and sailing. He served in a variety of capacities at his beloved church, St. Timothy’s Episcopal.
Two years after the death of Janice, Vann was blessed to resume a friendship with his high school classmate Betty Barnes Aquadro, also a widow. They married in 2011 and had six and a half wonderful years together. He grew to love her children as his own. He counted himself a very blessed man to have so many friends and family who loved him.
He was predeceased by his wife, Janice Williams Owens; son Gregg Owens; parents Robert J. and Elizabeth Owens; and siblings Frances Owens Dent and George Owens.
He is survived by his wife, Betty Aquadro Owens, children, Bruce Owens (Betty), Kathy Shearin (Jerry) and Gwen McCary (Steve). He is also survived by grandchildren, Stephen Owens (Morgan), Trevor Owens, Sarah Owens, Chris Howell, Laura Hodge (Alex), Stacey Pollom (Jesse), Caroline Champion (Tracy) and Jack Tatum; great-grandchildren, Stephen, Emmett, Joseph and Dorothy Owens. He is also survived by his brother Lester Owens and sister Betty Sexton and much loved nieces and nephews. In addition, he is survived by Betty’s children Beth Johnson (Paul), Mary Caraveo (Joe) and Martha Varney (John) as well as their children and grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, and to honor the Owens Family’s long-time friend and physician, Dr. Sibaji Shome, please consider a contribution to AMG International, Haitian Ministry, which Chancellor Owens has supported for many years.
Visitation will be Friday, March 16, from 4-7 p.m. at Heritage Funeral Home, East Brainerd Chapel. Memorial services will be held on Sunday, March 18, at 3 p.m. at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church with visitation one hour prior to the service. Reverend Derrick C. Hill is officiating.
Visit www.heritagefh.com to share words of comfort to the family.