Beloved Seattle Activist Garry Owens Passes on, Aged 78

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On Thursday, October 6th, Garry Owens passed on from complications of COVID-19 and pneumonia and was laid to rest at Sunset Hills Memorial Park in Washington state. Garry was a huge but humble figure in the city of Seattle’s community of activism, organizing, and education.

In an interview with the Seattle Civil Rights and Labor History Project in 2016, Garry spoke about his work with the Black Panther Party creating free meal programs around the city. Aside from the nutrition the children were receiving from the meals, he saw the program as having an even further impact. “We devised a way to talk to them while they were eating,” Garry would recall thinking back on the programs. Those conversations with young people seemed to be a grand theme in his life. 

Shortly after his passing, his wife Cindy Domingo, also a prolific activist, spoke about his transition saying that despite the pain of losing their loved one, “It has been heartwarming to me and his sons how many people talked about his mentorship. There were people who became activists who were much younger than Garry and he took them under his wing and shared his wisdom and experiences.”

Garry Owens’ wisdom ran deep and many in his community can testify to the impression he left when sharing his stories. He would speak about growing up moving between Seattle’s International District, Rainier Valley, and Rainier Vista and how the diversity of Seattle’s south end would help to shape his perspective. He could give the details of what it was like when he first investigated activism as a high-schooler, walking into the office of the Congress of Racial Equality on 23rd and Union in the city’s Central District. He might speak about how being drafted into the Army during the Vietnam war helped to shape his political awareness and understanding of the machinations of the U.S. government. If you asked, he would tell you how he and his comrades had founded the Black Student Union at the University of Washington and later Seattle’s chapter of the Black Panther Party. Garry remained a member of the Panthers from 1968 until 1972. During that time, he could tell stories of free breakfasts, boycotts, court trials, and riots in Seattle. Throughout the course of his life after those years, he continued to organize but perhaps one of the most lasting aspects of his community work was how he inspired, taught, and uplifted countless young people beginning their own journeys in political awareness.

Garry Owens will be dearly remembered by many in his hometown of Seattle and beyond. His physical absence will be formidable but his work will continue through the many people that he influenced over the years. Even in the cause of his death, his loved ones find inspiration to consider ways of protecting their community. In a social media post shortly after his passing, Cindy Domingo shared, “If you think Covid is no longer harmful, Garry’s death certificate listed Covid and pneumonia as the overriding factors in his death. Be safe, especially if you have other health issues like Garry did.” Whether through health, food, economic resources, or education, Garry Owens’ loved ones hope that his legacy will be to have inspired members of that community to help each other however they can in years to come.

For anyone who would like to learn more about Garry Owens’ life or share their own experiences with him, his family will be hosting a public celebration of life at the Seattle Filipino Community Center (5740 Martin Luther King Jr Way S, Seattle, WA 98118) on Thursday, October 27th beginning at 4:00PM.