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Wally Owen #57

Walton Haley Owen, II  (Wally) was born and raised in the City of Alexandria.  His parents worked for the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense.  As a child he lived in apartments next to the traditional African American neighborhood known as “Mud Town.” 

“I can’t remember a time that I didn’t have some black kids as friends,” Wally says.  “One day when I was about nine, they tore down all the houses in the black community, closed our playground, and took the land to build a new high school.  The foundations of the school were set deep into the heart of a black community and yet the building was named after a prominent Alexandria school segregationist. 

The school was named T.C. Williams High School.  Looking back at the 1971 State Championship Football team, I sometimes wonder if the players didn’t overcome the eternal conflict that somehow exists between the school building and the community it destroyed.”  Wally’s family moved to the Duke Garden’s area of Alexandria and he attended T.C. Williams High School all four years.

At T.C. Williams, he played freshman and junior varsity football and moved up to varsity football at the end of his JV football season.  As a sophomore, he received his first varsity letter as a member of the Titan track team where he ran the 440-yard sprint. 

Wally has the distinction of being one of the smallest players on the team.  “In some ways, I’ve been cast in the role of being the small player with the big heart.” Wally says, “But, the simple truth is I could run fast and I liked the physical contact of the sport.  A coach will always find a spot for a player who is willing to hit.” Coach Boone calls Wally his “blond haired, blue eyed, soul son” because he was one of the players that helped others make the transition to the new team.  Wally was a reserve linebacker during the championship season, which was his junior year at T.C.  Playing mostly on special teams, he served as a “head hunter” on the kickoff team.

After graduating from T.C. Williams in 1973, Wally attended  Emory & Henry College where he received a BA degree in American History.  In 1978, his interest in the museum field led him to a job at the Smithsonian Institution where he worked in a museum education position for 3 ½ years.  From an early age, Wally developed a keen interest in the American Civil War and the Civil War forts that protected Washington.   This interest brought him back to Alexandria to work at Fort Ward Museum for 5 years as a Museum Education Specialist and Associate Curator.  During that time, he co-authored a book,  Mr. Lincoln’s Forts: A Guide to the Civil War Defenses of Washington, and co-developed a national award-winning museum education outreach program, “Life During the Civil War,” for use in local schools.  The program received a 1984 National Award of Merit conferred by the American Association for State and Local History (one of six awards conferred throughout the United States and Canada).

In 1985, Wally was selected for a position at the National Archives to work on the staff processing President Nixon’s White House Office Tapes.  He then served on the staff for eight years as the Curator of President Nixon’s 30,000 object Foreign and Domestic Gift Collection.  Wally says, “Essentially, that means that I spent most of my time interpreting the 1971 Oval Office meeting between Nixon & Elvis Presley. The photos of the meeting are the most popular images in the history of the National Archives.”  He also served on the exhibition design team for Nixon’s private Library in Yorba Linda, CA and spent 6 weeks there supervising the installation of objects.  On the flight out, he hand-carried both the original copy of the Twenty-sixth Amendment-lowering the voting age to 18 and the tools used by the Watergate burglars. 

One of his career highlights was a three-month assignment to the White House to assist with the transfer of records and gifts at the end of President Reagan’s term.  There he experienced the awesome power of our government in action when he was the staff escort on the last truckload of materials to leave the White House.  “Sitting high in the cab of a moving van that was surrounded by an armed military and police escort, we left the White House and parted the five o’clock bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic like the Red Sea and made the trip to Andrews AFB in just 22 minutes.” 

In 1993, he left government work and entered private industry working for KPMG Peat Marwick as a senior management consultant for university libraries, archives, and museums.  In 1996, he returned to Fort Ward Museum working in a curatorial position and then accepted a position with Arlington County working to develop a new park that contains the historic remains of a Civil War fort.  Wally serves as the Historic Site Administrator of Fort C.F. Smith Park & Historic Site.  Since 1985, Wally has served as a subject area specialist on the Civil War Defenses of Washington and works as a consulting historian researching and writing historical narratives that are published as part of professional papers for archaeological and historical assessments.

In 2000, Wally married Denise Constance Chauvette and they reside in Alexandria.  Denise works in the field of environmental education as a naturalist and is the director of a nature center. 

Wally will tell you the true story of the team is better than the movie.  He says, “It was an extraordinary season that was filled with spirit and celebration and tempered with tragedy. Yet, even after all these years, there is a sense of family and brotherhood that we share with other teammates, and the lessons, influences, and experiences from that one single season form an important part of the person I am today.” 

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