Governor Otis R. Bowen passed away on Saturday bringing to a close a remarkable 95-year life of service.
Bowen was born in 1918 near the town of Rochester, Indiana. He graduated from Indiana University in 1939 and then got his MD from IU in 1942. Doc Bowen was a World War II Army Medical Corps veteran and spent years in private practice. He was a member of the Indiana House from 1956-1958 and 1960-1972 serving as Speaker of the House from 1967-1972. He left the House when he was elected Governor of Indiana taking office in 1973.. He was reelected in 1976 and served through 1981. After a brief retirement from politics and a stint of teaching at Indiana, Doc Bowen joined Ronald Reagan's cabinet from 1985-1989 as Secretary of Health and Human Services. He was the first medical doctor to serve in that role.
After his political career ended, Bowen returned to Indiana and his small town roots in Bremen but continued to be involved in the community through the Bowen Institute on Public Participation at Ball State University. His name is on so many other things in this state as well including the Bowen Research Center at IUPUI.
Twice a widower, Bowen is survived by his four children and his third wife, Carol.
I barely remember Bowen from his time as Governor, but I remember how my parents always admired him. He was a Hoosier born in a small town who never ever forgot his roots. If you can copy the career of Doc Bowen, you've done pretty well for yourself.
Governor Mike Pence released this very heartfelt statement that I think describes Governor Bowen and his contributions to Indiana perfectly:
“Governor Otis R. Bowen’s contributions to the life of this state and nation are incalculable, and I mark his passing with a sense of personal loss. His story is as inspiring as it is uniquely Hoosier.
From his early days in Fulton County where his dreams of practicing medicine were born, to his service in uniform in World War II, “Doc” Bowen’s life would be defined by caregiving and public service. Upon his return from military service, he started a private medical practice in Bremen and began a career in public life that carried him from local office to the General Assembly and on to one of the most consequential governorships of Indiana’s second century.
As the first governor since 1851 to serve two consecutive terms in the office, our 44th governor led Indiana through a season of reform in taxes, healthcare, and government administration. Governor Bowen also advanced historic improvements to our state park and recreation system, helping to create five new state parks including the first urban park in Indiana.
After leaving office, “Doc” Bowen returned to medicine as a professor at the Indiana University Medical Center, but in 1985, this extraordinary Hoosier would be called, once again, to public service when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to be the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Secretary Bowen would lead that government agency until January 20, 1989, when President Reagan left office. Coming full circle, “Doc” Bowen returned to Bremen, Indiana where it all began.
Throughout his life, Governor Bowen’s career was characterized by integrity, devotion to family, and love for Indiana. The debt this state owes to Governor Otis R. Bowen can only be repaid by relentless imitation of his example.
Karen and I send our deepest sympathies and prayers to his family, his wife Carol, and to his children and grandchildren during this difficult time. God bless you, Doc. Your caring work as a physician, your service, and your leadership left Indiana and our nation better for you having been here. You will be missed and your contributions to Indiana will be remembered always.”