Teacher Owens never stopped teaching

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By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A fierce believer in voting, Suzie Ann Owens wouldn’t let anything stop her from casting her ballot.
Tuesday’s primary election was her last.
In declining health for months, Owens, 64, cast her ballot on Tuesday and had a heart attack moments later. Later in the evening, she died at North Mississippi Medical Center’s emergency room. Many people who knew the retired English teacher with the Tupelo Public School District mourn her death but think her last act of civic duty before dying seems symbolic.
“She was trying to set an example,” said Jim Casey, a friend who also served as an election commissioner with her. “She took her teaching outside of the classroom.”
For thousands of Tupelo residents and her former students, they know they never reached an age too old for her to stop expecting their best. Nobody was ever too old for her correct them either, even if they were in church.
While she taught high school English for 30 years in Tupelo, Owens really taught students to believe in themselves, set high standards and meet them.
Ron Green, 41, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Nash/Edgecombe counties in Rocky Mount, N.C., credits Owens with changing his life, but he never even took one of her classes. Owens took interest in Green after noticing his writing skills and encouraged him to participate in an oratory competition. He now feels comfortable regularly speaking to large groups of people.
“You didn’t have to be in her classroom for her to be your teacher,” Green said. “She just wanted to see you be your best. She wouldn’t accept less.”
Growing up in a housing project in Tupelo and filled with self-doubt and low self-esteem, Green said he learned to believe in himself through Owens’ encouragement. Having followed in her footsteps to help students, Green knows she approved.
“I felt like she was so proud of me,” he said.
Countless people have stories of the stern Owens, a woman who wanted them to live up to their potential. Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton, 44, took Owens’ class as a ninth-grader and never forgot how much she taught him.
“She wanted to see our best and she demanded it,” he said. “Every time I saw her I said ‘Thank you for pushing me.’”
robbie.ward@journalinc.com