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Caperton remembers sister with gift to Clay Center

By Judy Hamilton

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In her brother's eyes, Cary Caperton Owen was a beautiful woman of grace and dignity, a role model, and a civic trailblazer.

Owen died on May 4 at the age of 78 from complications of Alzheimer's disease. She was surrounded by those who loved her, including her only sibling, former West Virginia Gov. Gaston Caperton.

On Saturday, those same people -- Owen's husband, children, and grandchildren, along with Caperton, his two sons and five granddaughters -- gathered to celebrate her life with a gift to the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences and the people of West Virginia.

While grieving the passing of his sister, Caperton said, he decided that he wanted to make a public gift of his treasured sculpture "Wind Torn," by West Virginia native Joe Moss, in his sister's memory.

"I've always loved this sculpture. It honors my sister who is a West Virginian and always loved West Virginia. I wanted to make sure people remembered her and it's a way for me to bring her home," Caperton said earlier this week.

"She was half sister and half mother. Beautiful in every way. Kind and a very good person. She was a loving and quiet person and always a good example for me. She always took good care of me."

Caperton described the painted carbon steel sculpture as beautiful and subtle in its strength and said that, like his sister, "it says a lot in a quiet way."

"My sister loved music and the arts and I thought it was an appropriate place for her to be honored," said Caperton, a Clay Center board member. The large white outdoor sculpture is in a grassy area between Washington Street East and the front exit doors of the center's Maier Foundation Performance Hall.

"Part of the purpose was to bring back the feeling of the person she was," Caperton said.

He called his sister brilliant and said she could have been president of the United States had she been born a generation or two later. Still, he said, she was a trailblazer in the face of many doors closed to women of her generation.

Owen grew up in Charleston and graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School in 1952. She attended Hollins College and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She and her husband, Charles Owen, married in 1957, settled in Asheville, N.C., and raised four children.

Caperton said his sister was often the first woman to serve on a committee or board. Owen twice served on the Buncombe County Board of Education and twice was elected to the county's Board of Commissioners. She served as a board member of the UNC Board of Governors and the North Carolina Board of Education.

She served as a member and secretary of the board of trustees of the UNC-Asheville, a trustee of the Arts and Sciences Foundation at the UNC-Chapel Hill, and was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine by Governor James Martin in recognition of her service to NC.

Owen was very involved in health care and served as a director of the UNC Health Care System Board, director and chairman of the Memorial Mission Medical Center and Hospital, director of the Mission/St. Joseph's Board of Directors, and president of the Mountain Area Health Education Center.

She served as president of the Asheville Community Concert Association, board member of the Asheville United Way, and as a founding member of the Pak Square Park Conservancy. Owen was a senior warden at the All Souls Cathedral where she taught Sunday school and served on many committees.

Caperton said that like their parents -- Eliza Ambler Caperton and William Gaston Caperton -- Owen demonstrated her strong Episcopalian faith in the way she lived her life. Those memories helped him choose the words from Matthew 5:16 for the plaque beneath his sister's sculpture: "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

Reach Judy E. Hamilton at judy.hamilton@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.


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