Joseph Owsley: Combat veteran, father, communicator

Joseph Owsley with Mary Jo Frank at a computer

Joseph H. Owsley

Joseph H. Owsley, former director of the University of Michigan News Service (now Michigan News), worked in communications at the university for 24 years until his retirement in 1993.

"Joe respected good work and he rewarded it when he saw it he rewarded it," said Roger Sutton, broadcast manager at Michigan News, who worked with Owsley. "He guarded the reputation of the university while being open and honest with reporters."
Owsley was born July 13, 1931, in Detroit. He graduated from Cooley High School and worked for Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. prior to joining the U.S. Army Airborne paratroopers in 1951. Following training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, he was deployed to Korea in 1953 where he joined the Seventh Infantry Division on Pork Chop Hill.

Korean War Combat Veteran

He was engaged in heavy fighting, was promoted to sergeant and became a squad leader in charge of eight men living in the trenches and making forays against the enemy. He earned two Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantry Badge, and a Purple Heart to go with his paratrooper wings.

Following the war, Owsley returned to Michigan, enrolled at U-M in 1954-55 and transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit where he studied journalism. He was a writer and editor for more than a dozen years at newspapers including weekly papers in the Smith Publications chain, The Ypsilanti Press where he was city editor, and The Detroit News where he was a news editor before joining the U-M communications team.

U-M Communications Career

At the university he was associate director of Health Science Relations for 13 years, responsible for Medical Center publications and the news operations of the U-M hospitals and the schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy and public health. He was named director of News and Information Services for the university, heading a staff of information officers, writers and editors for 10 years, until his retirement in 1993.

Owsley met his wife, Elaine, when he was editor and she was society editor of the Dearborn Independent. Elaine also worked at U-M from 1987-90. They raised three children, Julie (Tom) Johnson of Tecumseh, Clay (Dawn) of Cary, N.C., and Amy (Dave) Reineri of Newport News, Va. They have five grandchildren - Dr. Arwen Johnson, Tom Johnson, and Raina, Tavin and Calon Owsley.

Following his retirement, Owsley kept busy tutoring young men in the Washtenaw Literacy program, church work, woodworking and traveling with his wife in Europe and throughout the United States. He could be seen with his faithful dog Tigger around the Village of Dexter. He died Nov. 7, 2013 at age 82.

Portions of this story previously appeared in the November 22, 2013 issue of The University Record.