Jackson State University alum and benefactor Bob Owens is a preeminent lawyer and a devoted husband and father whose family has a long history with the urban HBCU.
In fact, he is one of six out of seven children in his immediate family to have earned a degree from JSU. Today, Owens continues to be a major donor to support the university’s mission for students.
His law career was born out of tragedy after losing his father, Edward “Bo” Owens, in a car-train accident in 1964. Young Bob recalls stewing over having to feed the cows one early December morning. Still angry, he watched as his father backed out of the garage at 7:15 a.m. in a new 1965 Chevrolet – unaware it would be the last time seeing his father alive. At 7:30 a.m., Bob’s mother, Inez, learned of the collision. Father Bo was rushed to the hospital, but he didn’t survive.
After the burial, his family failed to earn a substantial settlement like a white family had done when it, too, had suffered a similar railroad tragedy. Rather, the Owens were told by a lawyer handling the case that the offer was “a good one for a Negro family.”
Since then, Bob has sought to pursue justice for those who endure tragedies and injuries through no fault of their own. After graduating from JSU with a bachelor’s degree, he later would earn a law degree from Florida State University – determined to correct injustices. Early in his career, he was managing attorney at Central Mississippi Legal Services in Jackson. One of his notable achievements was winning a federal judgment to ensure constitutional rights of pre-trial detainees.
Eventually, he went into private practice, with his law firm consistently receiving the highest ratings in the Martindale-Hubbell Bar Register. The distinction is reserved for the most distinguished practices based on professional standards of ethics, reliability and diligence. Bob has successfully litigated million-dollar and multimillion-dollar judgments or settlements. These include wrongful death; medical malpractice; defective automobile and medical products; motor vehicle accidents; birth trauma cases; and chemical and gas explosions.
Ultimately, his legal career spanned more than 45 years, leading to the Jack Young Award and the NAACP Lawyer of the Year Award. Meanwhile, his involvements have consisted of working with political campaigns, including that of his wife, Denise Owens, as one of the first black elected Chancery Court judges in Mississippi.
In 2004, Bob was appointed to the board of the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning, serving 11 years (2004–2015).
As he looks over his life and successes, he credits his parents and forebearers, dating as far back at 1870 when his great-grandfather (Suetter Owens) was born. Then, the family inherited 100 acres of farmland south of Jackson. Later, his grandfather (Walter Owens) acquired 80 acres nearby. Eventually, Bob’s father (Edward “Bo”) acquired 50 acres of that land from Bo’s mother (Emma, who was Bob’s grandmother).
In 1951, Bob was born on that farmland in Terry. He still resides there now, remembering his days of picking cotton; planting and shuffling corn; tilling the soil; going to school; attending church;and taking care of the cows and horses. His father had one rule: “Always feed the animals before you eat.” Also, he gives a nod to the strong women in the lineage.
Aiming for continued family success, Bob and his brothers learned the farming business very well. Sometimes, that meant taking the show on the road but with a stop at JSU first. In other words, before going to auction, the young cattle handlers – who were also students – sometimes parked their loaded animal trailer outside their classroom building. “To this day, some JSU alumni still talk about hearing – and smelling – the cows on campus,” Bob quipped.
Overall, the Owens’ work ethic resulted in many accomplishments for Bob and his siblings. Even his own children have earned successes, with all his children (Selika, Bobby, Brittany and Jason) becoming lawyers or a pediatrician. He credits being born into a “smart, loving, caring family and being lucky enough to marry a smart, loving, caring woman.”
The way Bob sees it the generations of men in his family are known to have “married well.”