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Republicans Remember Former Governor As Tax, Health Reformer

The state’s Republican leaders remember Otis Bowen as the architect of some of the changes the party is still working to enact today.

bowen with reagan

Photo: National Institutes of Health

HHS Secretary Otis R. Bowen (second from left) and NIH Director James B. Wyngaarden greet President Ronald Reagan during his July 23, 1987 visit to the NIH Clinical Center.

The man affectionately known as “Doc” earned that nickname in 1942 when he graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine. Bowen served in World War II and the GI glasses he wore became his signature as he entered politics, eventually becoming the first governor since the 1850s to win two consecutive terms in office.

“He represents all of the good elements, if you will, of what public service is about,” says Sally Jo Vasicko, the co-director of the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State University, adding Bowen’s election slogan “He hears you” wasn’t bluster.

“He was a tough negotiator.  And I’ve talked with folks who worked with him and he knew what he wanted to do and how he wanted to accomplish it, but he still listened,” Vasicko says.

As news of Bowen’s passing spread over the weekend, his fellow Republicans were quick to issue statements lauding the change the state’s 44th governor made while in office.

Governor Mike Pence called Bowen’s story “…as inspiring as it is uniquely Hoosier” and noted what he called Bowen’s “…season of reform in taxes, healthcare, and government administration.”

Congressman Todd Rokita (R-4th) recalled the former governor visiting his office when Rokita was a newly-elected 30-year old Secretary of State just so Bowen could, in Rokita’s words, “check on the young guy.”

The state’s 49th governor, Mitch Daniels, called Bowen “…the living embodiment of the virtues we associate with our state – modesty, honesty, kindness.”

Ball State’s Vasicko says that’s how she remembers him, too.

“That sincerity – and also I think in the years that I’ve gotten to know him that little twinkle in his eye. It’s a quality that you could always tell that ‘Oops, something coming,” because this little twinkle, this little glint is there and this little smile is coming.”

Governor Bowen also served from 1985 to 1989 as Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Health and Human Services. He left that post to return to his medical practice in the small Marshall County town of Bremen, where he heard from patients instead of constituents.  Otis Bowen was 95 years old.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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