Utah History Encyclopedia


By Jay M. Haymond
Born in Panguitch, Garfield County, on 2 May 1937, Wayne Owens graduated from Panguitch High School in 1955. He served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France, then returned to the University of Utah to graduate in 1961. He also graduated from the University of Utah Law School in 1964, and he was admitted to the Utah Bar in 1965.

Owens worked as western states coordinator in the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign in 1968 and served in the same position during the 1980 presidential campaign of Edward M. Kennedy. He also worked as Edward Kennedy's administrative assistant from 1969 to 1971, when the senator was majority whip. Owens then served as administrative assistant to Senator Frank E. Moss from 1971 to 1972.

Owens won election as a Democrat to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Second Congressional District in Utah in 1972 by "walking for Congress" throughout the district to meet voters personally. Throughout his service as a member of Congress, Owens was a voice for Democrats and liberals in the state many people consider to be the most Republican and conservative in the country. He was a friend to environmentalists in a state where most people seem to be pro-development. While many voters disliked Owens's stands, they admired his honesty and courage. However, he was an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate in 1974 when he campaigned against Jake Garn.

Owens considers that the highlight of his career was during his first term when he and other freshmen congressmen helped force a vote that ended the Vietnam War. Wayne Owens served as a mission president of the LDS Montreal, Canada, Mission from 1975 to 1978, after which he returned to Salt Lake City to practice law.

In 1984 Owens tried a political comeback by running for the office of governor of Utah, but he was defeated by Republican Norm Bangerter. Owens was again elected as to Congress from the Second Congressional District in 1986 and served through 1992. Much of his second term was spent working on the Central Utah Project and helping gain compensation for people who lived downwind from atomic testing in Nevada and suffer from its effects. Owens's advocacy of up to ten percent of Utah land as wilderness was controversial.

He met his wife, Marlene, when they were serving missions in France. They married in 1961 and have five children. Following his unsuccessful 1992 Senate campaign, Owens returned to practicing law, pursuing his interests in the environment, and promoting Utah.