William Idris Owen
1901 - 2004
Idris Owen, a pianist, singer, and legendary choir conductor, was well-known in Seventh-day Adventist music education and evangelism in France, Great Britain, and New Zealand, during a lifetime that spanned the 20th century. His choirs were outstanding, and his students were winners in numerous music competitions.
Idris was born in Mountain Ash, a coal-mining town south of Aberdare in the Cynon Valley in South Wales, on October 9, 1901. When he was seven, his family joined the SDA church during an evangelistic campaign conducted by W.E. Read in Mountain Ash in 1908. Shortly after, when he started music study, it quickly became apparent that he possessed a significant talent, winning sixty first prizes as a boy pianist in Welsh Eisteddfods.
His mother, determined that he should have an education and not be a miner, encouraged him to attend Stanborough College, later relocated and renamed Newbold College, an SDA school in Watford, England. Idris was an exceptional student and at age nineteen, following completion of a music diploma and the first of two diplomas from London's Royal Schools in Music (L.R.A.M., A.R.C.M) and teaching briefly at SC while still a student, he was offered and accepted a music teaching position at the Adventist college and seminary in Collonges, France.
The following year, he returned to England, where he married Lilian Viola Barnes Higginbotham on December 21, 1922. She had been born on April 30, 1893, in Nova Scotia, the daughter of a military family which had returned to England about the time of World War I. In 1916 she married naval officer George Higginbotham, who lost his life at sea the following year. A son, George, was born shortly after his father's death. During the war she became a member of the SDA church as the result of an evangelist campaign.
Idris and Lilian returned to France and lived on the Franco-Swiss border for the next eighteen years. Two of their four children were born in France and two in Geneva.
At age 38, Owen and his family had to leave France when German aggression in Europe escalated and the country responded with a declaration of war. In subsequent years, he often talked about the family's return to Britain in a car filled with all their personal possessions.
He taught music privately in Watford and worked in Civil Defense after he returned to England and then was hired by Stanborough School, now an Adventist secondary school, to teach music and French. After World War II ended in 1945, his music students entered and placed in local and regional music contests. In 1957, for example, they won four first places, a silver cup, and three second and two third places.
The Owens emigrated to New Zealand in 1961, where he taught music and French at the SDA school in Auckland for the next six years. At the time of his retirement in 1967, he and his wife visited the church's world headquarters in Washington, D.C., and their homeland, Britain, where they enjoyed reunions with friends and many of his former students. They celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary on December 28, 1972, in Auckland, New Zealand. They were living there when she died four months later on April 19, 1973, at age 79.
Idris married Minneta (Netta) Barnes, on December 21, 1973, in Boulder, Colorado. She had originally been from England and was serving as an X-ray technician and supervisor of the heart department at Porter Memorial Adventist hospital in Boulder. The following year, the Owens traveled to Collonges, France, where, as a "sustentation Overseas Worker," he presided over the music program at the college and seminary for two years, before returning to New Zealand, at age 74.
The Owens subsequently returned to Britain, where he lived in Barrowby, England. In 1990, at age 89, he returned to South Wales to live in Nantgaredig near Carmarthen. He was living there when he died on April 30, 2004, at age 102. His funeral service included music by Chopin and ended with a recording of the "Hallelujah" chorus from Handel's Messiah.
Sources: Idris Owen obituary, D R Brian Philips, (British Advent) Messenger, July 30, 2004; "Married to a Perfect Homemaker," (from the New Zealand Herald), Australian Record and Advent Survey, May 2, 1973, 10; "College Notes," Missionary Worker, February 1919, 13; Biography for Higgenbotham, G., 2nd Eng., 1917, includes biographical details for Lilian Viola Barnes, http://www.newmp.org.uk; Lilian Viola Owen obituary, Australian Record and Advent Survey, June 18, 1973, 19; "Adventists Shine at Music Festival," British Messenger, June 14, 1957, 5; Arthur H. Roth, "Dateline-Washington," "New Zealand Guest," Review and Herald, February 9, 1967, 5; F.L. Stokes, "Fiftieth Wedding Anniversary," Australian Record and Advent Survey, May 2, 1973, 10; Derek Mustow, "Wedding Bells," British Advent Messenger, May 1973, 15; "News Notes, Euro-Africa," Review and Herald, July 22, 1976, 21. At that time, retired SDA workers were supported by income from a "Sustentation" fund. They could provide additional overseas service during those years, if they wished to do so; BUC News #391 (April 30, 2004), Email Newsletter of the SDA Church in the UK.