Dr. Samantha Owens granted me a rare interview this winter. We sat down at the Tombs, a D.C. restaurant she likes to frequent, to discuss her life, her position as the head of Georgetown University Medical School’s new Forensic pathology program. Dr. Owens was incredibly candid, agreeing to answer the infamous Proust questionnaire. We had a couple of drinks and I ran through the questions, amazed at times by her insight, and her positive outlook despite the sadness that has permeated her life in the past few years.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Kindness among all people.
What is your greatest fear?
You’re kidding, right?
Hey, it’s part of the questionnaire.
Floods. I am deeply afraid of floods.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Goodness, Madame Curie, maybe? How egotistical is that? (She laughs.)
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
What is your greatest extravagance?
It’s going to sound so shallow, but clothes. Soft sumptuous fabrics — I simply can’t help myself.
What is your favorite journey?
Other than crossing the River Styx? Kidding. I’d like to go to Italy. Taylor went and has been raving ever since. Truth be told, I haven’t traveled as much as I’d like. There was never time, with work, then the kids… well. I’d like to travel.
Moral excellence. I don’t believe it exists. I’m concerned by the mob mentality I see, people ganging together, claiming moral superiority but purposefully hurting other people. It’s not sustainable.
On what occasion do you lie? (She doesn’t answer right away. There is a distant look in her eyes, but then she smiles and takes a sip of her Scotch.)
I don’t lie to others, only to myself. And it often lands me in trouble.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
(I can’t help but look at them, they are surprisingly unkempt for a woman who seems so put together. Red and cracked, they look almost painful. Curious.)
Which living person do you most despise? (She snaps the answer, her face suddenly contorted in anger.)
Okay. Which words or phrases do you most overuse? (This is safer territory, she laughs, and I am struck again by how a smile utterly transforms her face.)
I tend to curse a lot, so Jesus is probably my go to phrase.
What is your greatest regret?
That I asked my husband to save my laptop. Next.
What or who is the greatest love of your life? (She seems very uncomfortable with this question. It takes her almost a whole minute to respond.)
I decline to answer. My life is far from over. Besides, I couldn’t possibly pick just one.
When and where were you happiest?
I’m happy right now, and that’s all I can ask.
Which talent would you most like to have?
The ability to forget.
What is your current state of mind? (Another laugh.)
I’ve had a couple of fingers of Laphroaig, so I’m pretty well lubricated at the moment. Is that a state of mind?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? (She grows serious again. This woman is mercurial, swinging moods from moment to moment. This interview is clearly making her uneasy.)
I wouldn’t. Everything that I am, everything that’s happened to me, makes me who I am. The good, the bad, the terror, the love. But there’s a scar on my stomach I wish wasn’t there.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
I’d bring them back to life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Oh, that’s easy. Being the youngest female chief medical examiner in the State of Tennessee.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A beloved cat in a well-kempt home.
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Outside of interviews? Loss.
Where would you like to live?
Georgetown is fine by me. I like it here. It’s very vibrant, there are a lot of great restaurants and shops nearby. I can walk to work, and living in D.C. is amazing. Maybe someday I’ll live near a beach, where I can take long walks in the chilly air wrapped in a sweater, with a couple of dogs frolicking around my feet. Idyllic.
What is your favorite occupation?
What is your most marked characteristic?
Oh, I bet if you asked a few other people, they’d say I am incredibly stubborn. But I’d say I’m kind.
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you most value in your friends?
Love and loyalty. There’s no judgment from them. They often seem to know me better than I do.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Maura Iles. You know, the Medical Examiner in Tess Gerritsen’s books? She has such class, and I understand her. She’s a rather… esoteric character.
Who are your heroes in real life?
My best friend, Taylor Jackson, her fiancé, John Baldwin, Detective Darren Fletcher of the Washington D.C. Metro Police, and Xander Whitfield. All four are brave beyond measure, caring, kind, and beloved. They will never shy away from a fight, and charge headlong into life. I admire that in them.
What is it that you most dislike?
How sometimes I have urges I can’t seem to control, and I embarrass myself in front of strangers.
How would you like to die?
I will give the most banal answer I can. Asleep in my bed at a very advanced age. (She smiled wickedly.) Preferably after a long night of great sex.
And now I’m blushing. Last question. What is your motto?
What’s that mean? (She tips her head to the side, her dark hair swinging.)
Justice for all.