By Kenya Godette

William "Bill" Owings, retired Old Dominion University professor of educational leadership, died on Feb. 15, surrounded by his wife and family. He was 71.

Owings leaves behind more than just a legacy of scholarship – he is most remembered for his kindness and dedication to his students and colleagues.

"Bill bravely battled several serious health issues in the past year," said Steve Myran, ODU professor in the Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership. "Despite his own struggles, he always prioritized others, turning conversations away from his own well-being to inquire about theirs."

Owings retired from ODU in 2023 after five decades of educational leadership that extended far beyond the University.

Owings dedicated 26 years to the educational landscape of Virginia, Georgia and Baltimore, having served as a superintendent, elementary and high school principal, and English teacher. Owings transitioned to higher education in 1999 as a professor at Longwood University and joined the Monarch family in 2002.

"His impact on the field of educational leadership is immeasurable," said Shana Pribesh, chair of ODU Educational Foundations and Leadership, in 2023 when Owings was the subject of the Provost’s Spotlight. "Through his research and mentorship, he empowered countless individuals to enact positive change in schools and communities."

Colleagues recall his remarkable ability to bridge the gap between theory and practice, referencing Owing’s notable influence on students he mentored.

“During Bill’s time at ODU he chaired 30 dissertations and served as a committee member on an additional 40, contributing to the mentoring and scaffolding of 70 Ph.D.’s,” said Myran. “The students he advised have gone on to become principals, headmasters, senior school division and state leaders. The exponential impact he has had on the field is striking.”

Throughout his tenure at ODU, Owings authored over 200 scholarly works, collaborating closely with his wife and co-author, Leslie Kaplan. Their latest book, "Critical Resource Theory," aimed to foster greater educational equity, reflects Owings' dedication to addressing systemic issues in education.

Recognized for his outstanding contributions, Owings received several awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Education Finance Academy, ODU’s Rufus Tonelson Award, Distinguished Fellow of Research and Practice of the National Education Finance Academy and the Virginia Educational Research Association’s Charles Edgar Clear Research Award.

“Bill Owings embodied the true essence of educational leadership. His commitment to excellence, equity, and compassion resonates deeply within our community, all while his great sense of humor and ever-present smile added warmth and joy to every interaction,” said Tammi Dice, dean of the Darden College of Education and Professional Studies. “As we mourn his passing, we also celebrate the profound impact he has left on countless lives. His legacy will forever inspire us to strive for positive change in education and beyond.”

As the ODU community remembers the life and legacy of Bill Owings, his dedication to excellence and equity in education will continue to inspire future generations.

Owings' family has requested privacy during this time, with plans for a celebration of his life to be announced later.

"Anyone who knew Bill pays his generosity of spirit forward every day in the work they do as educators,” said Myran. “And that is the real tribute to his legacy."