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Joan I. Owens, private school educator and theater buff, dies

Joan I. Owens, private school educator and theater buff, dies
Joan I. Owens taught English and Latin at St. Paul’s School for Girls from 1965 to 1976 and fifth grade at Ruxton Country School from 1979 until retiring in 1992.

Joan I. Owens, a retired private school fifth grade, English and Latin teacher who enjoyed attending the theater, died Aug. 3 of heart failure at a daughter’s Ocean View, Delaware, home. The former longtime Ruxton resident was 92.

“Joan was a truly marvelous person. She was as kind and gentle as she was intelligent,” said Zelma M. Holzgang, a resident of Catonville’s Charlestown Retirement Community, who formerly lived in Towson.

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The former Joan Idell Quirie, the daughter of Ross James Quirie, a dairy consultant, and his wife, Idell Grosskurth, a teacher, was born in Toronto. She was raised there and in Melrose, Massachusetts, where she graduated in 1944 from Melrose High School.

Mrs. Owens earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1948 from Victoria College at the University of Toronto, and a year later, a master’s degree in English from Boston University.

While teaching at The Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, she went on a blind date and fell in love with Gwinn F. Owens, a Providence Journal reporter, whom she married in 1951.

His father was J. Hamilton Owens, who had been editor-in-chief of The Sun, The Evening Sun and The Sunday Sun.

The newlyweds shared a love of music, theater and adventure, and in 1952 they sold everything they owned and moved to Greece. Later that year, they returned to Baltimore and settled into an apartment on St. Paul Street. In 1960, they moved to Locust Avenue in Ruxton.

From 1965 to 1976, Mrs. Owens taught English and Latin at St. Paul’s School for Girls, and in 1979 she joined the faculty of Ruxton Country School where she was a fifth grade teacher until retiring in 1992.

“I met Joan when we were both teaching at St. Paul’s and we shared a car sometimes. I took over her English class when she left St. Paul’s," said Elizabeth “Betty” Keller of East Windsor, New Jersey, formerly of Lutherville, and a longtime friend.

“I found her to be smart, kind, witty and probably the best-read person I’ve ever known. I got her to join our book club and she was just a wonderful addition. The whole book club is sad about her passing,” Mrs. Keller said.

A daughter, Laura Templeton of Ocean View, Delaware, wrote in a biographical profile of her mother: “She touched many lives in the Baltimore area, and we used to joke about her taking so long to shop at Graul’s because she always ran into a former student or a grateful parent.

“She remembered every one of them and many got in touch with her as adults telling her what an impact she had on their lives and on their professional decisions. To her friends, family and students, she was always a patient listener and a gentle adviser. She inspired others to write, to read, to think, and to observe.”

In retirement, she and her husband, who was the first editor of The Evening Sun’s op-ed page, enjoyed traveling to Europe, Canada and Florida, and for 40 years spent summers in the same cottage in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

To improve her Latin, French and art skills, Mrs. Owens returned to school to take additional courses.

“An inspiration to all around her, she was an example of how a good attitude means everything,” Ms. Templeton wrote. “During her illness with congestive heart failure, as well as earlier when she faced other health and life challenges, she used the time to read and improve her skills as an artist, letting nothing bring her down.”

A prolific artist, Mrs. Owens was still in recent years producing hundreds of pieces of artwork in pencil, marker and acrylics.

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While interested in all the arts, Mrs. Owens particularly enjoyed the theater and earlier this year attended a granddaughter’s performance at Clear Space Theatre in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

After her husband died in 2009, Mrs. Owens lived with Ms. Templeton and her family in Ruxton, and continued doing so after her daughter moved to Ocean View in 2017.

An avid reader, Mrs. Owens had been a member for many years of an American Association of University Women book club.

“I met Joan when we were both members of the Towson branch of the American Association of University Women book club. We later started the Thursday Afternoon Book Club," said Lois Zannow, a Towson resident.

“Joan was a great contributor and made great remarks that made us think about we had read,” Mrs. Zannow said. “She was such a delightful person and she kept active with her brain until the very end. She was just remarkable.”

Said Mrs. Holzgang: “She never missed a meeting of our book club and always asked cogent questions about what we had read. She had a terrific background as a teacher at St. Paul’s, and she and her husband were always up to date on the latest books. I think she knew more about F. Scott Fitzgerald — he was a passion of hers — than his wife, Zelda, did.”

She was also a member of the Baltimore Chapter of the Daughters of the British Empire and the Ocean View Senior Center, where she attended a weekly painting class.

Mrs. Owens also enjoyed fine dining and was especially fond of raw oysters, which were easily obtainable after moving to Ocean View, family members said.

She was a communicant for many years of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd at Boyce and Carrollton avenues in Ruxton, where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Oct. 12.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Owens is survived by two sons, Ross Owens of Santa Cruz, California, and Paul Owens of Orlando, Florida; another daughter, Gwendolyn Gibian of Montreal; and six grandchildren.

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