Friends and Colleagues Remember Gilroy’s TJ Owens

Services set for well-known and loved school board president
Gilroy – TJ Owens loved football. He loved to play it. He loved to watch it.

That’s why the well-known local would always attend the 1pm Sunday service at Bethany Church.

“If his team lost he could come and pray for them,” said the Rev. Gerald Harris.

Locals are still trying to deal with the shocking news that the father, grandfather, husband, friend and colleague they knew so well is gone. Owens fell into a coma after suffering a massive stroke early Monday morning. He died at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in Redwood City on Monday afternoon. He was 68.

“For me it was a blow, it wasn’t a shock,” said Edward Valeau, a colleague and friend. “It was a devastating blow.”

Valeau, president/superintendent of Salinas’ Hartnell College, met Owens during the onset of his career at San Jose City College. Because Owens was older and already established, Valeau looked to him as a mentor.

They were friends, fraternity brothers and colleagues for 30 years. They had a chance to work together again when Owens was hired as athletic director at Hartnell in April.

Owens was a member of the national organization 100 Black Men, the Rotary Club and was president of the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Education. He was elected for his second term in November 2002 and would have been up for reelection in November 2006.

The father of five was also an active member of Bethany Church in Gilroy. Harris met Owens in 1992, when he moved to Gilroy.

“He was very, very devoted to his spiritual life and was always counted upon in terms of his service and volunteering,” said Harris. “This is a tremendous loss to our congregation.”

Harris noted that Owens served as president of the San Jose chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People during “turbulent times” for the black community.

“He was a man who rubbed shoulders with people who were born out of the Civil Rights movement,” said Harris.

Owens was proud of his athletic background and would often say that the football scholarship he earned from California State University, Fresno, was the catalyst for his future in education.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in physical education from CSUF, Owens earned a master’s degree in counseling from Santa Clara University and a doctorate in community college administration from the University of San Francisco.

Owens spent his entire adult life working in education, most recently serving as vice president of student services at Gavilan College. He retired in 2001.

Harris didn’t know anyone in Gilroy when he began his tenure at Bethany Church. When he found out that Owens, whose children all grew up attending Bethany Church, was a fellow CSUF graduate there was an instant connection.

GUSD board members Rhoda Bress and Pat Midtgaard said Owens’ death is a tremendous loss for the community.

“As president he brought a sense of fairness to the proceedings,” said Bress.

Bress served on the board with Owens for a little less than a year but he was a familiar face before she was elected.

“Everybody knew TJ,” she said.

Although Midtgaard had only worked with Owens since being elected in December 2004, she got to know him through their two-hour weekly meetings. Since Midtgaard is vice president of the board, she and Owens would meet with Superintendent Edwin Diaz every week.

The board will appoint a local to fill in for Owens until next November. Midtgaard and Bress said the board will discuss what steps are necessary in a future meeting.

The grand opening of Eliot Elementary School, scheduled for Friday, has been postponed due to Owens’ death. The dedication ceremony will take place on Nov. 4 from 1:30 to 2:30pm.

Services for Owens will be held at 11am on Saturday at Bethany Church, 8095 Kelton Drive in Gilroy. A reception will be held following the services at Gilroy’s Elks Lodge on 2765 Hecker Pass.

Services planned

Services for TJ Owens will be held 11am on Saturday at Bethany Church, 8095 Kelton Drive in Gilroy. A reception will be held following the services at the Gilroy’s Elks Lodge on 2765 Hecker Pass.

The grand opening of Eliot Elementary School,

scheduled for Friday, has been postponed. The dedication ceremony will take place on Nov. 4 from 1:30 to 2:30pm.

Leave your comments