John Wyn Owen made a major contribution to improve the publics’ health over many years in the U.K, Australia and globally. His contribution in his beloved native country of Wales is known only too well, not least as Founder Member of the Learned Society for Wales. He was also a key architect of the 2015 Welsh Future Generations Act.
John started his professional career as an NHS manager and oversaw the NHS in both Wales and New South Wales, Australia. As a health service leader, John was a big picture thinker and visionary. He was one of the first top health service managers to see the huge benefits for the health system and the public’s health from an investment in prevention and health improvement. This lifelong mission was also informed by his Cambridge University training as a human geographer. His contribution as Secretary of the influential Nuffield Trust enabled him to sow the seeds of many new initiatives and ideas. In this role, he brought together constellations of influential people and innovators from many different sectors and disciplines to exploit the potential for health in all public and commercial policies.
John was an inspirational Public Health leader who throughout his career encouraged and supported young talent and provided a fertile environment for them to develop. On a personal note, he was a major influence on both of us as thinker, leader and mentor. John was fearless in providing wise counsel to those in positions of authority, speaking truth to power with considerable political acumen, sometimes to his personal cost.
John never retired fully and supported many third sector organisations such as the UK Heath Forum and served on many Global initiatives. In these later years John was a key promoter of the concept of “One Health” and the intrinsic link between human and planetary wellbeing. He also served on the influential Bevan Commission. One of the very first people to be made an RSPH Professorial Fellow, he remained proud of this association to the end.
He will be very much missed personally and professionally by the wider public health family. A memorial service celebrating John’s life will be held later this year in Cambridge. We have all lost a great man, whose contribution will live on long after his untimely death.