When friends talk about Judy Owen, they remember her inimitable laugh, her love of nature and, most of all, her determination to take care of others.
“If there was a need, her automatic reaction was, ‘What can I do to fill that need?’” said Gary Maxwell, her longtime friend and co-worker. “Judy had so many friends who were so good to her, and everything she got was a direct reflection of what she gave to them.”
|Judy Owen, left, and her husband, Dan Holt (Photo courtesy of Liz Gray and Gary Maxwell)|
Before her death, Owen ensured that her estate would further the values she lived every day. The results of her diligence included a $500,000 bequest for stem cell research directed to City of Hope on her behalf by co-trustees Maxwell and Liz Gray.
For more than 25 years, Owen worked as a legal secretary at the firm Irell & Manella in Los Angeles. In August 2001, she married her friend of many years, Dan Holt. Sharing enthusiasm for the outdoors, the two exchanged vows on a glacier in Juneau, Alaska.
Tragically, Holt died from heart disease only eight months later in 2002. Wounded deeply by the loss, Owen immersed herself in caring for her ailing mother-in-law, just as she had cared for her own elderly mother years before.
A weeklong vacation working at a dude ranch in 2005 proved to be a turning point that reignited Owen’s ardor for travel and nature. The following year, she ventured to Manitoba, Canada, for an expedition observing polar bears.
“This wasn’t a high-end, ritzy thing. It was really basic because she wanted to get as close as she could to the polar bears,” noted Maxwell.
Owen took an early retirement in fall 2006 and set her sights on an African safari. But that trip never came to be.
While preparing for the journey, she broke her wrist. Not long thereafter, doctors diagnosed her with large B cell lymphoma.
She faced this battle with optimism, but the disease ultimately proved too aggressive. She died Aug. 15, 2008, just before her 63rd birthday, surrounded by friends.
Owen dedicated most of her estate to three causes, specifying one but allowing Maxwell and Gray to find the best places for the other contributions.
City of Hope came to mind because several of Owen’s and Maxwell’s friends and co-workers had sought treatment there over the years.
“Everybody who dealt with City of Hope came away with such a feeling of care, that everything that could be done was being done,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell directed support to a clinical trial led by John A. Zaia, M.D., the Aaron D. and Edith Miller Chair in Gene Therapy. Zaia and his colleagues have developed a strategy that may block HIV/AIDS while defeating AIDS-related lymphoma.
“Judy would want City of Hope to get this money, and I don’t think she would mind that I did it in sort of a self-serving way,” said Maxwell, who has lived with HIV for more than 20 years. “This is reflective of what she was about.”
Owen’s bequest comes at a critical moment, said Zaia, who chairs the Department of Virology.
“There is an important question that has to be answered before others in the field will know how to proceed,” he said. “We think we know how to improve the outcome, and this gift allows us to move quickly.”
In recognition of the gift, a nurses’ station in City of Hope Helford Clinical Research Hospital was named in Owen’s honor.
Knowing the impact of his friend’s bequests, Maxwell plucked a ready metaphor from Owen’s life: her beloved garden.
“I think that was her view on life. She wanted things to bloom. Life is flourishing because of her.”