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JANE BLAFFER OWEN

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JANE BLAFFER OWEN Obituary
JANE BLAFFER OWEN 1915 - 2010 Jane Blaffer Owen CBE, of Houston, was the daughter of Robert Lee Blaffer and Sarah Campbell Blaffer and wife of Kenneth Dale Owen, a descendant of Robert Owen. Her father helped start the Humble Oil Company, now Exxon and on her mother’s Campbell side, the Texas Oil Company, formally known as Texaco. She was the proud mother of 3 daughters; Jane Dale Owen, Caroline Campbell Owen Coleman and Anne Dale Owen-Pontez.

She attended the very first Kinkaid School, in Margaret Kinkaid’s home on Elgin Street. In 1933, she graduated from the Ethel Walker School in Connecticut. She studied at Bryn Mawr, The Washington School of Diplomacy &The Union Theological Seminary in New York, and later, studied under the late Theologian Paul Tillich.

She once commented, “To whom much is given, much is expected,” “People don’t understand generosity…to give is to receive” and on her own terms she did receive honors and accolades. Armed with her gifts, extraordinary intelligence, grace, charm and her own innate sense of style, she began her quest. In her 20’s she helped organize one of the first events to raise funds for WWII war bonds. Howard Hughes loaded his plane with Hollywood stars to add sparkle to the event. Mr. & Mrs. Henry Fonda, Olivia de Havilland, Jimmy Stewart, Mischa Auer, Richard Green and Tyrone Power were among the notables. It was immensely successful.

This free spirit with an untethered generosity turned her sights on New Harmony. She married Kenneth Owen in 1941. He introduced her for the first time to the home of his birth, New Harmony, Indiana, a faded town on the Wabash that once held the dreams of generations past. It was founded by Robert Owen the Welsh Industrialist and Social Reformer in 1824 as a utopian society in the hopes of creating “a community of equality”.

New Harmony became her pallet and unfettered she set about to preserve its history, restore its homes and bring some of the greatest minds and artists to its door. With renewed dreams, she had hopes for a better world for all humanity. Of course she did it with a dash of her own verve. With passion for people from all walks of life; she provided an atmosphere of vitality and acceptance. With her charm, vision, and insatiable drive she tried to create a more interdependent world.

It began in 1958, when she started the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation to preserve and promote the historical and educational attributes of New Harmony. In 1961, she commissioned Philip Johnson to build The Roofless Church where one could see the sky and embrace people of all faiths while aspiring towards a more united and peaceful world. Jacques Lipchitz, acclaimed sculptor, fashioned the bronze Madonna & Child at its center and the gilded gold gates on either side.

She created a park for Theologian Paul Tillich in a wooded glade to cherish his desire that his ashes be scattered in New Harmony. She convinced The Eli Lilly Foundation of Indianapolis to build an athenaeum as a visitor center in New Harmony. She was instrumental with the choice of Richard Meyer as the architect.

Eclectic and inspiring, she ever encouraged and supported others to fulfill their true potential.

Renowned sculptor Steven de Staebler once found his way to New Harmony and wanted to grace its fields of wheat with his granite sculptures, Jane prodded him to sculpt “The Pieta, Angel Gabriel and The Vision on St. Benedict”.

She encouraged Jeff Sparks from Indianapolis to start the New Harmony project, the precursor of the now acclaimed Heartland Film Festival in Indianapolis.

She entreated Kent Schuette, from the architectural school at Purdue to measure and replicate the ancient labyrinth from the Chartres Cathedral, France. In 1997, Frances Lepaux, Cannon of the Cathedral of Chartres dedicated the rose granite unicursal Labyrinth for meditation, and prayer. Imminent British sculptor Simon Verity created the Fountain of Orpheus placed at its apex.

She was a magnet both near and far, attracting over the years, Michael Ramsay, Archbishop of Canterbury, Duke & Duchess of Hamilton, the grandson of Winston Churchill, Senator McGovern and Henry Luce. Senator Lugar and Governor Mitch G. Daniels were always there to support her latest vision.

She was awarded the prestigious Louise DuPont Crown Shield Award, The National Preservation’s highest accolade and honored by The National Trust for Historic Preservation. She received The Sachem Award from Governor of Indiana Mitch Daniels to recognize a lifetime of excellence and virtue that brought credit & honor to Indiana. She shared this inaugural award with college coaching legend John Wooden and Reverend Theodore Hesburgh CSC, President Emeritus of the University of Norte Dame and world statesman. With all her acclaim she lived a modest simple life; she was often seen in her hat and golf cart chauffeuring visitor and guests around New Harmony.

In Houston she was a major supporter of The Blaffer Gallery and The University of Houston’s Gerald Hines College of Architecture. She was honored for her lifetime support of the arts and architecture, with a retrospective of the art, sculpture and buildings of New Harmony at the U of H, along with film documentary, “Conversations in New Harmony.” She and the Dean of Architecture, Joe Mashurn, collaborated with Ben Nicholson from Chicago Art Institute and a class of UH architecture students to employ contemporary digital modeling to design and build Frederick Kiesler’s lifelong wish to realize “The Grotto for Meditation,” now standing at the University of Houston.

She founded the English Speaking Union of the United States. She was the first president of the Allied Arts Council, a persistent founder of the International Seaman’s Center of Houston, Trustee of C.G. Jung Educational Center, Sustaining Trustee of the University of Houston Moores School of Music. She had served on the board of The Houston Symphony and The Contemporary Arts Association. She holds Honorary Doctorates of Arts & Humanities from University of Southern Indiana, Kenyon College, Ball State University, Butler Theological Seminary and Purdue University Doctor of Letters. She was awarded The Good Brick Award for work in preservation and Champions Breakfast award by Youth First Houston. She was one of two persons in Texas to have received Commander of The British Empire, bestowed by her majesty, Queen Elizabeth II.

It was befitting that Jane Owen’s heart should stop on the longest and brightest day of the year at her home in Houston surrounded by family.

She will be greatly missed by her family and many, many friends. No one will forget her joy of life, boundless energy and her positive attitude that gave us such hope and a belief that all things are possible and that miracles can happen.

Jane is survived by her sister, Joyce von Bothmer of New York; daughters: Jane D. Owen of Palm Beach, Anne D. Owen-Pontez of Houston and husband Hal Pontez; devoted grandchildren: Erik O. Arneberg, Ingrid A. Grados, James O. Coleman and Abigail Owen-Pontez; Great-Grandchildren: Sarah Grados and Jane Owen-Coleman; Nieces and Nephews, Joe Hudson, Lee Hudson, Camilla Blaffer Royall, Catherine Blaffer Taylor, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Joan Blaffer Johnson, Marisol Bocly, Jacqueline Younes, Diane de la Begassiere, Bernard von Bothmer, Maria Villalba; and by her many Campbell cousins. Thank you to her caretakers Rosa, Gwen, Jessie , Mabel and Helen.

The memorial service is to be conducted at half-past ten o’clock in the morning on Saturday, the 10th of July, at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 717 Sage Road in Houston, where the Rev. Dr. Russell J. Levenson, Jr., Rector, and the Very Rev. J. Pittman McGehee, former Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, are to officiate.

In lieu of flowers and customary remembrances, charitable donations may be directed to Dr. W.K. Alfred Yung, M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, P.O. Box 4486, Houston, Texas, 77210-4486; St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Wayside Chapel and Gardens, 717 Sage, Houston, Texas, 77056; the Robert Lee Blaffer Foundation, P.O. Box 514, New Harmony, Indiana, 47631.
Published in Houston Chronicle from June 27 to July 4, 2010
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