John Owen, longtime president of North Georgia College & State University in Dahlonega, died Tuesday at age 88.
In his 22 years at the school, Owen, helped it double in size but also pushed its academic bounds, expanding programming and community outreach.
The former president was a strong judge of character, said friend and colleague Gerald Lord. When Lord first interviewed at the college, Owen decided to hire him in the first 10 seconds of their conversation, Lord said.
"He was very quick to make decisions and he comprehended people so well and he understood their background," Lord said.
Owen was born June 22, 1922, in Savannah and grew up in Quincy, Fla. He graduated from the University of Florida and served during World War II as a naval officer and later was a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve Research Units in Gainesville, Fla., and Athens.
Owen received his master's and doctoral degrees in plant pathology and biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin. He later took positions at the University of Florida and the University of Georgia before coming to the Dahlonega university in 1970.
Owen quickly tackled some of the university's challenges.
"There was some animosity between the college and the town, and he immediately found a way about getting rid of that animosity," Lord said. "... He sent professors and staff members into town to build better relationships. He created softball teams and baseball teams for the town and sent his people over to coach it for them."
Owen's involvement in the community continued until his death, and there were few projects in Lumpkin County he wasn't involved in, Lord said. Most notably, he helped bring Chestatee Regional Hospital to Dahlonega and championed the extension of Ga. Highway 400 into the county.
At North Georgia College, he made himself available at all hours of the day and had an unparalleled dedication to the school, Lord said.
He helped create the school's physical therapy program and expanded the staff as the student body doubled in size. He also re-established the school's basketball teams.
He retired as president in 1992.
Owen is survived by his wife, Margaret Wilson Owen; two daughters, Cathy Scheffer and Karen Gormley; and three grandchildren.
The family will receive visitors 5-7 p.m. Thursday at Banister Funeral Home, 2068 U.S. 19 N, Dahlonega. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Friday at Dahlonega United Methodist Church, 107 Park St. A reception will follow in the church's fellowship hall. Banister Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.