John Owen Habib, 21, died on April 11, 2023 following a fall while hiking in Morocco. He was pursuing one of his greatest passions — traveling and exploring the world. For John Owen, the world was a place of extraordinary wonder: The more he could meet, talk and learn from people, the richer his life was. He was an indefatigably curious, yet humble, force of nature.
John Owen was born on March 11, 2002 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the second child of Cressida Bainton-Habib and Khalil Habib and younger brother of Jordan. John Owen grew up in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, attended Quest Montessori Elementary and Middle School, and Portsmouth Abbey School, where he was editor-in-chief of its student newspaper, The Beacon, and created its first online platform for newscasts, podcasts and other digital content. He co-founded the Mind and Market Club to serve his peers and engage them in discussions that fostered interest in business, economics and business psychology. At Portsmouth Abbey, he also developed a love of classical Russian writers like Tolstoy, and literary visionaries including Dante and Milton. It was through literature that he first explored his own spirituality and was proudly involved in Catholic spiritual life and the Maronite church of Rhode Island. At the time of his passing, John Owen was a junior at Brown University studying Chinese, Philosophy and Economics. He was a co-founder of the Brown Private Equity Club, participated in the Brown Journal of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, the Brown/RISD Arab Society, the Economics Departmental Undergraduate Group and the chess club. The day after his accident, the family received word that John had been accepted into a prestigious summer banking internship program, the Barclays Financial Sponsors group in New York City.
In his brother Jordan’s words, “John Owen was joy and curiosity personified. He celebrated his friends, challenged and encouraged them to be better people; to dare more, try harder and treat themselves and others with grace and respect. He loved to laugh, was an exceptional chef, an extraordinary conversationalist and gave the most thoughtful gifts. He was never afraid of doing the impossible and challenged others to do the same. He was lucky enough to spend his 21st birthday with over 100 of his closest friends at Brown, which we have learned was just the tip of the iceberg.” John Owen was also a talented self-taught guitar player who was thrilled to have recently taken several guitar lessons with one of his favorite jazz fusion players, Alex Hutchings. Last summer, he was able to realize his dream of living and working in New York City.
John Owen held a singular talent to connect with people born in vastly different circumstances, from the deserts of Morocco and the lush hills of Lebanon, to the streets of China and the hallowed halls of Brown University. He walked through life humbly, actively seeking a shared human experience, befriending those in need, driven to improve their lives and know their stories. During his most recent trip to Morocco, he met a young boy who was desperate to start a website, so John Owen offered to create it for him for free to help him realize his dreams. In a call to his father, he reflected on the randomness of life, the hope of those living in poverty and the stark difference between this boy and the circumstances of his own birth. “It’s on us,” he said, “to do better and be better.” And he did, founding the Island Time Company, a nonprofit clothing company whose proceeds are donated to the Bahamas Hurricane Restoration Fund.
Stories of John Owen’s impact on others have poured in from every corner. His family has learned about his contributions as treasurer of the Brown University Arab Society that stabilized the organization (and he drove an hour to deliver authentic Lebanese pastries for a World Cup match), to helping review the college essays of victims of the Syrian Civil War so they could access higher education. One friend wrote, “Two of my favorite qualities about John are that he was both caring and curious. John was one of the special few who are both, the perfect mix to make the world a better place.”
John’s magnetism, charm and love for his fellow human beings led people from all walks of life to readily share their lives with him. From taxi drivers to CEOs, they found John Owen engaging, and he found them endlessly interesting. Even animals gravitated toward John Owen, letting him befriend them and become their “animal whisperer.” He was deeply proud of his Lebanese heritage and his family connection to the Bahamas. He loved his summers in Amagansett, New York. For John Owen, it was all more history to explore, more of the world to see and more people to know.
In a recent letter to his parents, President Christina Paxson P’19 P’MD’20 wrote: “Your son led a truly remarkable life, and has left behind an extraordinary legacy. We know the measure of a person is most often found in the difference they make in people’s lives, and John Owen has certainly made a difference. From being involved in many Brown student organizations and activities, to his selfless passion to help others, John Owen was driven and passionate and a true inspiration to us all. His loss will be felt very deeply.”
For those of us left behind, when faced with a challenging decision, when we need courage to reach for the thing we most want, the hand we feel at our back will be John Owen, encouraging us to dare. Because life, after all, is short. And this is how his legacy lives on through us.
The blessings and love that John Owen left us will live forever. We will honor him with services on Monday, April 24 at noon at St. Mary’s, Western Avenue, Augusta, Maine, with burial to follow. John Owen often expressed the desire to establish a fund or foundation to help others have access to the opportunities that he had himself at Brown. We will establish that fund in his name. In lieu of flowers contributions can be made on the GoFundMe page: Fundraiser by Jordan Habib : Bring John Owen Home (gofundme.com).
Deborah Chiaravalloti is John Owen Habib’s aunt and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.