Co-workers say Gail Owens is the face and voice of the Office of the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and it’s a responsibility she welcomes each and every day.
“I want to make a good impression for UAB and for this department,” says Owens, an office services specialist. “Because I’m the first person people meet or talk to, I want to represent the IRB in a positive light and show that we care about the participants. That’s what inspires me to try to help. It’s the way I have of giving back to others, and I totally believe in paying forward in life.”
Owens’ selfless personality resonates in everything she does — professionally and personally — say her co-workers. When someone needs help, Owens is there to provide it. When a distraught investigator calls, she provides reassurance. The respect Owens has earned among her colleagues for her drive, desire to help others and attitude has led to her selection as September’s Employee of the Month.
Owens supports the IRB senior staff and the board itself. She purchases supplies needed for the office and arranges breakfast and lunch for each week’s board meeting in addition to providing other administrative assistance as needed.
It’s the calming and helpful demeanor that makes Owens really shine, co-workers say.
“The volume of traffic that the IRB sees in person and via telephone is enormous,” says Cari Oliver, assistant director. “Thousands of dropoffs and phone requests come in each year, and generally, Gail is the first to field each question. We have young investigators who are worried about completing requirements for their dissertation and seasoned veterans who are anxious to get started so that they can release funding for their research. Gail handles each one with respect and kindness, making sure they are treated fairly and expediently.”
Oliver estimates 100 phone calls and 50 walk-ins come into the IRB office on any given day. Owens does her best to process the information she’s given from the callers and visitors and they get the help they need.
“Whatever problems come up, we try always to tell them we’ll get an answer,” Owens says. “I might not know the answer, but I tell them, ‘We will find one, and it’ll be OK. We’re going to take care of it.’ Sometimes just explaining the process to them eliminates all of their concern.”
Owens has the same calming and uplifting affect on her co-workers.
Sally Blake Headley, a technical writer for the IRB, says she begins every work day with a warm greeting from Owens — starting her day off on the right foot.
“She is how we all begin our day,” Headley says. “She welcomes us with a sincere ‘good morning’ and a smile and makes us glad we walked in the door.”
Co-workers say Owens has kept her positive attitude and outlook despite being diagnosed with cancer earlier this year.
“She greets everyone with a smile, even on the days she does not feel well,” says Denise Ball, associate director. “Gail is a true survivor who has inspired others by keeping a faithful spirit and good attitude while facing great adversity. She has not allowed her illness to affect her attendance at work or the quality of the work she performs. She provides outstanding service to every person who visits or calls our office, and everyone loves her for it.”
Owens was diagnosed with cancer March 12, and she says the love and support she has been given by her co-workers has only reinforced her love and commitment to them.
“God has blessed me with a wonderful work family,” Owens says. “When I was taking radiation, I had to take it twice a day and the people in this office came to the hotel I where I was staying and stocked me up with food. Someone brought dinner every night. I couldn’t have gone through what I’ve gone through these past few months if it wasn’t for my work family. They supported me when it wasn’t just work-related, and they’re outstanding people. I want to give that back.”
But Owens doesn’t just give back at work.
She has volunteered at the Alabama Youth Home in Hayden for the past five years, serving as mentor to girls ages 12-18. She has worked with local businesses to provide them with beds, furniture, groceries and other basic needs, and she’s inspired co-workers to sponsor the girls on their birthdays and other holidays.
“She has enlisted all of us to be a part of the girls’ lives,” says Sheila Moore, director of the IRB. “Gail truly is one of a kind. She even has expanded her family and become a foster mom to one of the girls who, hopefully, will be a student at UAB in January.”
Indeed, Owens recently became a foster mother to Alyssa Dunaway, one of the girls at the home. They met two years ago and Alyssa soon began to spend her weekends and holidays with Owens family.
Dunaway had attended six high schools heading into her junior year at Hayden High School, and the two of them decided she would remain at Hayden through graduation even though Owens did not live in that school district. This past May, three days before the teen’s graduation, the court system said she could live full time with Owens.
“It was a wonderful feeling,” Owens says. “She’s been my daughter in my heart for a long time, and it’s great to have her as part of my family.”