Robert V. “Bobby” Owens Jr.
Published 3:44 pm Thursday, January 11, 2024
December 21, 1932 – January 9, 2024
Manteo, NC – In a place where legends abound, a legendary figure has crossed over. Consistent with teachings of his Masonic Lodge, of which he was a longtime member, “His reward comes with his release, he now rests in that further shore with God in God’s eternal peace.” In Manteo, at his earthly home on the morning of Tuesday, January 9, 2024, Bobby Owens, longtime political leader, passed away peacefully during his sleep, with his son, and daughter-in-law present.
Robert Valentine Owens Jr. is survived by his son, RV Owens III and wife Julie; grandchildren, Shannon Owens Gillam and husband Noah, Chase Powers Hooper, Robert Daniel Owens and wife Kayla, Avery Hooper Woodard and husband Paul, and United States Army Lieutenant Emanuel Edward Davis; great-grandchildren, Cora Spain Owens, Lisa Sterling “Lolly” Woodard, and Robert Daniel Owens II; sister, Clara Mae Shannon and husband Lionel; niece, Peaches Eckhardt and husband Jim; great-nephew, Leo Woodard; son-in-law, Edgar “Buddy” Hooper; and many special nieces and nephews.
In addition to his parents, Clara Mae and Robert Valentine Owens, Bobby was preceded in death by his wife, Sarah Alford Owens; and his daughter, Lisa Sterling Owens Hooper.
Bobby Owens was truly a legendary figure not just because of the heights reached in the political realm, but because of the great impact on the lives of those around and about him. He served as an inspiration and propaedeutic to so many young people. In responding to those desiring to be involved or selecting and exhorting those he believed should. Generations grew up under his tutelage. His lessons were not only about technique, but of life, and the necessity of involvement. He was characterized by loyalty, service, vision, courage, poise, and dignity.
Service was his calling, from early days serving the nation and the U.S. Coast Guard, for years as County Commissioner, in regional and statewide offices and even as mayor of his beloved hometown, Manteo. Bobby loved people innately and, beyond their immediate appearance, saw their potential. Always a consummate politician, he was honest in a rare and unique way. He confronted directly, and pedagogically, even the personal demons of his life, from which other friends and family shied away. His love and devotion to people called him into service and begot a courage, from necessity. From these was honed a trait of steadfast loyalty. He reflected upon his last political race with a certain wry sense of sanguine, acceptance, and reality. He always savored not just the victory, but instead the race.
A lifelong Democrat, with conservative leanings, he always knew and was unapologetic for, who he was. He was loyal to a fault to all of his alliances, even those with different points of view or affiliations. Some have said if there was anyone to pick to be with you in a foxhole, it would be Bobby Owens.
Bobby was born in 1932 to the late Robert and Clara Owens. He, along with his long time friend Jerry Cahoon was born at Hulcam Dairy Farm, the site of the current College of The Albemarle. In those days it was a bottling company which his father supervised. His family soon moved to his current home in downtown Manteo. That home at which he had resided for over 90 years, was shared by the likes of Andy Griffith, a boarder, whom he considered a friend and a contemporary. After recent medical issues requiring surgery, it is no wonder he was insistent to the hospital staff “I want to go home.”
In his childhood days, he roamed the downtown docks with lifetime friends, Moncie “Punk” Daniels and Jack Cahoon. He was one of the three original “wharf rats,” due to their relationship with prominent downtown businesses, the Tarkington Grocery, the Daniels Oil Company, and the original Owens Restaurant, which was, in those days, a waterfront sandwich-hotdog shop. The original shop was distinguished by pure clear cold water, chilled, distilled, and dispensed in part due to moonshine technology from Carson Creef. How interesting is the visual created by the memories of Bobby and his contemporaries. It was if it was on a walking tour through old downtown Manteo waterfront; first past Tranquil House Inn, then by Davis’s Department Store, the Transportation Depot, Daniels’ Oil Company, the hardware store, Tarkington Grocery, Owens’ Restaurant, and ubiquitous crab and fish houses. Manteo was then in its hey-day, as a bustling center of life and commerce serving spring up company towns like Buffalo City. Jack recalled that, “In those days we were never worried about falling overboard because one of the always-present fishermen would fish you out.” After the first great downtown fire, Bobby’s mother “Miss O” moved the business to the beach starting the Owens Restaurant and Motel. With assistance of Bobby and sister Clara Mae, this would become a prominent business and icon on the Outer Banks.
Bobby recalled with fondness his young days when President Theodore Roosevelt came for the opening of The Lost Colony. He was dressed completely in white: a white suit, white hat, white car. He stopped at the “wharf rats” roadside stand to buy Nugrape and orange sodas drinks for a nickel. Remembering Roosevelt; that’s a long and enchanted life.
After high school the three “wharf rats” went off to N.C. State College. After a short period, Bobby joined the Coast Guard, later returning to attend East Carolina University. His affection for that institution rubbed off on his grandson Chase and granddaughter Avery who were matriculated there.
His love of people prompted his calling in to service and politics as the longest serving chairman of the County Board of Commissioners, behind the scenes working for many state and national political figures even to serving as the Eastern Governor’s Office Director. He forged many relationships with powerful and influential figures, about which he was non-affectatious. He was most comfortable with ordinary citizens. Bobby put into practice both the art and science of politics that made it all look simple and natural. He oversaw many ameliorations for his island heritage, but moreover served as teacher and inspiration for many others. He taught that “politics is really a series of loyalties and connections. You hope to choose right to begin with, but you stay with them.” “The winner is always the one who runs the race.”
With a spiritual and stoic acceptance, Bobby survived the death of his life companion Sarah. To some they may have seemed a bit of an odd couple; with one who flourished in the limelight and the other who relished in the quiet and solitude, enjoying antiquing. But they shared deep reverence for each other, and the joy of dining in good restaurants. He endured the hardship of his beloved daughter’s, Lisa’s, fight with the dreaded disease which would eventually take her young life. He always embraced travesty and triumph with equal poise.
Bobby oversaw many changes to his beloved county, but always with vision and reflection. His imprimatur still marks many facets of government. For a year in advance, he planned for and engaged in the long journey of campaigning to become a delegate as nominating elector for the President. He did so the hard way, by running for it as opposed to being appointed by virtue of position. That process was important tutelage for other young people. Always having vision he planned and saved for the future. In early days he would stash side money rolled and stuffed into his favorite shotgun barrel. That is until RV without permission snatched the gun from its perch for an impromptu hunt. One could only imagine the bird’s surprise at the “poof like” sound and green confetti shower.
Never cognizant of his smallish stature, he was always a tenacious and pugnacious fighter with steadfast, sanguine-like hope and will. Earlier he had been a skilled boxer – but with a glass jaw. Through the battles with political foes, diseases, and adversity, he was always a fierce, respectful, and respected competitor. Always humbly unassuming he insisted on sartorial impeccability in dress and carriage. Shoes, belt, and tie were always shined, matched, and fitting. His vehicles were always cleaned, polished and appropriately adorned. People marveled over his last shiny black truck, which he appreciated. However, he believed it needed some more chrome. He had insisted without explanation that RV take him to Ron and Phil’s Body Shop where he had secretly ordered an additional chrome package.
His relationship with son RV was, indeed, as solidly powerful as it was unique. It was an Abraham-Isaac type relationship at first, growing up and growing together. They shared not only a father and son relationship, but as RV would recall, “he was my best friend.” The girls Lisa, Shannon, Avery, Julie, Cora were great lights in his later life. Of his boys Chase, a partner, and Bo, his equal with people, he was so proud. With a sparkle in his eye and great spring in his step he loved and lived for time spent with his grandchildren and great-grands.
The poet Tennyson write of his inspiration:
“Old age hath yet his honor and his toil;
death closes all: but something ere to the end,
some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men, that strove with gods.
…Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but ever strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and never to yield.”
Many family and friends discouraged and believed it ludicrous for him to run for office at age 90. Perhaps that was fitting as it was in his DNA; practicing what he had taught so many, “Run the race even to the end.”
He recently said, “I want to go home.” Bobby Owens is now indeed home, in that house, not made with hands, eternal in heavens.
The family would like to recognize Cornelius Bryant and Don Jackson for all their years of loyalty and friendship to Bobby. To nurse Donna for her exceptional care and compassion, and to Jussara Dough, whose devotion to Mr. Bob will never be forgotten.
A funeral service will be held at 3 p.m. on Friday, January 12, 2024, at Mt. Olivet United Methodist Church. The family will receive friends and relatives Thursday evening from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. at Twiford Colony Chapel. Private burial will take place in Manteo Cemetery.
Twiford Funeral Homes, Outer Banks is assisting the family with arrangements. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.TwifordFH.com.