The Life and Times of Jim Owens



My good friend Lacy Barnett alerted me to a Dora High School graduate who had a remarkable career. Lacy had linked up with Jim after the latter signed up for the Dora High School Alumni website. I contacted Jim and asked if he would do us the honor of giving us his story. What follows is Jim's story.
I was born in Shelby County but moved to Walker County when I was about four years old. I attended the old Phillips elementary school in grades one through three. While in the third grade the Phillips school burned and shortly after that the Empire school burned. So, for the last half of the third grade I attended classes at New Canaan Baptist church; the fourth grade I was at the old Little Vine Church; the fifth grade was in the Church of God at Creeltown and then grade six was at the Empire Baptist church. Finally, in the seventh grade the Empire school had been rebuilt and I was there through the 9th grade. Of course, we all learned to write without the use of a desk…we simply all sat in the church pews separated by our books and all writing was done using our knees for a desk. To this day I can sit without a desk and write with great comfort and ease. It seemed to much of a coincidence for both the Phillips and Empire schools to burn within a short period of time and there was great speculation that the cause of the fires were arson but, I have no recollection of anyone every being apprehended or punished.
Upon entering Dora high school I begin driving the school bus, as had my two older brothers. The pay was $20.00 per month. I soon learned that it was not possible to drive the bus and tryout for the basketball team and do my chores at home. So, I chose basketball. We lived in Coon Creek where my mother operated a general merchandise store and my father worked for IBM and commuted to Birmingham six days a week. Basketball practice was held immediately after school each day and after practice we would hitchhike home. Of course, there were many nights when we walked part of the way home. Ivy Paul Andrews usually officiated at our home games and occasionally would attend our practice sessions.
Upon graduating from Dora high school in 1951 I entered the University of Alabama in September. About two years later I left to do my time in the Army. When I completed my military service I worked for a period of time in Birmingham at the US Pipe and Foundry. Later I went back to school, and married Charlotte Bishop and we lived in Tuscaloosa. Charlotte got her Master's degree from the University and when I graduated we moved to Mobile where I went to work for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). I later transferred to Birmingham where I continued to work and get an MBA from Samford University. We moved many times during my career with IRS. Leaving Birmingham to move to Maine, Louisville, Philadelphia, New York, St. Louis, Washington, DC, Texas and then back to Washington, DC. While in Dallas, Texas I was the Regional Commissioner in charge of all federal tax administration in the Southwest US including Colorado and Wyoming. I left there to move back to Washington after being fortunate to be appointed as the Deputy Commissioner, the highest career position in the IRS, by the Secretary of the Treasury. I continued in this position for some seven years until I retired after thirty years with the Revenue Service. When the Commissioner’s position was vacant I was Acting Commissioner while awaiting the President to appoint and the Senate to confirm a new Commissioner. I traveled extensively throughout the US (every state except Montana) and had a limited amount of international travel while with IRS. The international travel consisted primarily of meeting with our major tax treaty countries such as Japan, Australia, France, Germany, Canada, etc. I headed the US delegation on many of these trips abroad. I was very fortunate to be honored by the President while serving as Deputy Commissioner. President Reagan personally awarded me the Presidential Meritorious Executive Service Award in 1981 and in 1982 he presented me with the Presidential Distinguished Executive Service Award during a ceremony at the White House.

Upon retirement from the US Treasury Department in 1988 I began a second career as an international tax consultant. I was a Senior Fellow at the International Tax Program at Harvard University along with working in various countries for the Harvard Institute for International Development, International Institute for Advanced Studies in Cambridge, MA, the U.S. Treasury and continue to work for the World Bank. So, for some 18 years I have worked in the international field of taxation, which included teaching at the Minister of Finance International Training Center in Taipei, Republic of China and special courses sponsored by Harvard. Other countries I have worked in include, Russia, Poland, Romania, Bosnia, Slovak and Czech Republic, Guyana, Republic of Georgia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Japan, Australia, Ukraine, Gaza and West Bank, Philippines, Indonesia, Dominican Republic, Granada, etc., and several countries in Africa such as Egypt, Botswana, South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, The Gambia, etc. I have now begun to transition out of all of the work although I made three trips to Africa in 2006 for the World Bank and will make about the same number of trips this year to Africa and the Ukraine.

I am asked from time to time about memorable events or places that I have had the privilege to visit. The quick ones that come to my mind are Victoria Falls in Africa along with the first heard of elephants, pride of lions, visiting the prison and jail cell that Nelson Mandela was housed in so many years. Also, I must not forget Mt. Everest in Nepal. It is truly one of the great wonders…cannot understand why anyone would want to try to climb to base camp two much less to the summit. I was also very moved when I visited Corregidor in the Philippines where General McArthur had his headquarters in the Malinta Tunnel and where he made his famous “I shall return speech” and in October 1944 he did return. Seeing the pyramids in Cairo, Egypt was a real treat and I must not forget the visit to Jerusalem, the old city, Manger Square, the dead sea, etc. Of course, all is not well in the world and one is moved by the poverty and aids in Africa and other parts of the world.

We relocated to an area south of Birmingham, AL in Shelby County almost three years ago. So, today I now live in the county where I was born which is quite a coincidence although I lived in Walker County during my formative years. We are now enjoying life and continue to be very thankful for a life and career that has been wonderful to my family and me.

Rick, when you asked for my background information you also asked what advice I would give today’s students. If I were to offer one small piece of career advice to today’s students it would be…. always keep a positive attitude, get as much education as possible, never stop learning, be happy in what you choose to do in life and perform every task to the best of your ability.

Jim Owens
Dora High School – Class of 1951

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