After 40 years, Owens exits EMS
by Jessica Loeding
Aug 11, 2013 | 4392 views | 0 0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry Owens says farewell to the crowd attending his retirement luncheon Friday while the new Bartow County EMS Director Kevin Garren, right, looks on. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Larry Owens says farewell to the crowd attending his retirement luncheon Friday while the new Bartow County EMS Director Kevin Garren, right, looks on. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Forty years after he stumbled into emergency medical services, Bartow County EMS Director Larry Owens quietly exited Friday, retiring as the county’s senior employee.

In the early 1970s, Owens was working in Cartersville but spent time with EMS personnel near his mother’s house.

“The ambulance service was metro at the time, per se, and they rented the house next door to my mom’s house,” he said. “… That was in ’70, ’71 the county took over and stayed in the house. There were six guys who ran the ambulance service, that’s all there was — six of them.

“… I’d go over there; we’d play cards, shoot pool, goof off with them all the time when I got off from work and all.”

When an opening became available, Owens — known affectionately as “Big O” — declined the offers to take the position.

“I was working at a carpet mill down here and I wanted off on Saturday, and he said, ‘You ain’t gonna be off on Saturday.’ I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ So I quit ’cause I wanted to go play in a softball tournament,” Owens said. “So I went over there [to EMS] and said, ‘Y’all still want me to come to work?’ ‘Yeah, come on.’ The rest is history.”

Named director of EMS in 2009, Owens said the camaraderie of the department and public safety has been a highlight of his career.

“Now, we’re just all one big, happy family — us, fire, police — one big family. We all love one another and do things for one another. We all know their families,” he said. “Plus, you know, I really enjoyed helping people that really, really needed it.”

An avid fisherman and coach and umpire for youth softball and baseball, Owens’ wife, Brenda, said his caring personality and sense of humor were what drew her to him more than 30 years ago.

“He is just the biggest, gruffest teddy bear in the world. Everybody thinks that he’s just the scariest thing around and he is not. Ask our granddaughters. He’ll get onto them, and they’ll look at him and say, ‘You know we’re not afraid of you,’” she said. “And if you ever saw him at the ball park at Hamilton Crossing where he coaches and stuff, you would see that. These little girls think he is their own personal jungle gym. They climb him; he can’t sit down without one of them coming and sitting in his lap. …”

Calling life with Owens the “the largest slice of heaven this side of heaven,” Brenda Owens said the future will be an adjustment.

“Larry and I got married — I worked in the emergency room, was where we met — [EMS has] just always been our family. This is going to be a huge adjustment,” she said. “He’s always worked two jobs, at least when our kids were small. Starting out at EMS, he didn’t make a whole lot, so he’s always worked two jobs. So this is actually the first time in his life he’s going to have Larry time, so I really don’t know he knows what that means yet.”

Looking back on time with EMS, Owens recalled the one moment that stands out — his first “save.”

“I’ve enjoyed all 40 years. I really have. There’s not one outstanding moment. Well, I guess my first quote-unquote save,” he said. “Me and Ronnie Lowery were together when the county went to advanced life support, in other words paramedics and stuff.

“Our first cardiac arrest we got this guy back. He was dead. His son was doing CPR on him; me and Ronnie got him back. He lived for like six, seven, eight years after we got him back. That was one of the proudest moments, I guess, in EMS.”

In the past 40 years, EMS has moved from a basic emergency response service to an almost $4 million department with roughly 75 full- and part-time employees at five stations. That change is one Owens takes pride in.

“I’ve watched EMS grow from when I started I didn’t even have a CPR card, a first aid card or nothing. And now, to become a paramedic, you’ve got to go to school about three years to become a paramedic,” he said. “I’ve seen EMS evolve from nothing to what it is today. I’m very proud of that. … It’s a very, very nice profession to in now.”

For former EMS director Don Starnes, the evolution will be one Owens helped usher in for the county.

“He was involved with me when I was director in changing this service over into a totally advanced life support service. Larry was always right there with me. We worked hand-in-hand,” he said. “… He became an instructor, helped us teach. I became an instructor. … We just kept that going so we could keep this service moving forward.”

Working with “the greatest guy in the world” also had an upside, Starnes said.

“He was easy to work with. Me and him worked really good together. We didn’t always agree, but we always discussed it and come up with a solution that was good for both of us,” he said. “… When Larry and I were on a truck together, I was always glad to have Larry because, No. 1, if anybody ever wanted to fight, they wanted to fight him. They figured if they could whoop him, I’d be a piece of cake. So I lucked out on that deal. He was bigger than me. They always wanted to pick on him.”

During the course of his career, Owens also became a mandated police officer and served with the Northwest Georgia Region 1 Emergency Medical Services Council.

He was recognized during his retirement celebration Friday by the council with a proclamation and plaque. Bartow County EMS also honored Owens with a plaque.

True to what new Director Kevin Garren called Owens’ theory of “don’t use a lot of words when a few will do,” Owens kept his farewell address short.

“Thank everybody for coming. … I cherish everybody’s friendship. … I won’t ever forget you.”