TERRE HAUTE —
Former Wabash Valley legislators, political party officials and residents who interacted with former Gov. Otis Bowen say the state has lost a great leader.
Bowen died Saturday at age 95. He served as governor from 1973 to 1981 and was appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1985 under President Ronald Reagan.
Before his public service, Bowen served as a family doctor in Bremen. That earned him the nickname of “doc.”
“In my mind, he was an absolute statesman and a good friend of mine,” said Fred Bauer, 77, a retired Terre Haute attorney and former state representative, who served from 1964 to 1974. “I knew I could trust him and he could trust me,” Bauer said.
Bauer, a Democrat, served as House majority leader in 1965 while Bowen, a Republican, was House minority leader. Then in 1967, Bowen became House Speaker and Bauer was minority leader.
“We had a great relationship. He was a statesman. There aren’t too many of them left,” Bauer said. “A statesman is somebody who is willing to compromise, is not bull-headed and does not view the other political party as absolute demons and is willing to listen and work with you,” Bauer said.
“Today, there are good guys and bad guys, and never between shall they mix,” Bauer said.
When Bowen was minority leader, “every once in a while he would come over to my office in the morning and said, ‘Well, Fred, I’ve got to give you hell this morning, so stay in your seat,’” Bauer said. “He would go through the motions to make his party’s point.”
Bauer said Bowen, as governor, later sought support for a tax reform bill. “After we sat down in his office, he needed a couple Democrats to help. I think I got him a couple votes,” Bauer said. “We made a trade, but I can’t remember what it was for,” Bauer chuckled.
Bauer recalls he had asked Bowen to support a bill, referred to by House members as the Brighton bill. Bauer said William Brighton had won election in November 1971 for mayor of Terre Haute. Brighton left a vacancy in the county clerk’s office. Bauer’s bill would allow county commissioners to fill that vacancy, instead of the governor.
“Doc said he would sign the bill if it passed. I don’t think he thought it would pass,” Bauer said.
“He called me at home and said he had to renege on his promise, that he can’t do it. Buena Chaney, (who had served as Vigo County and Seventh District GOP chair before becoming state GOP chair) put a lot of pressure on Doc. I didn’t blame him. Like the gentleman he was, he told me in advance and told me what he would do and why. That is just the mark of the man,” Bauer said.
In 1975, shortly after Bauer had lost re-election, Bowen appointed Bauer to the Commission for Higher Education, a post Bauer held until the first term of former Gov. Mitch Daniels. Bauer said he was reappointed by Govs. Orr, Bayh and O’Bannon.
Teresa (DuBois) Exline, chief of staff at Indiana State University, recalls wearing a “I Love the Gov” T-shirt when she, as a high school sophomore from Muncie, escorted Gov. Bowen into the 1976 state GOP convention. “He obviously was a very beloved governor,” Exline said, as Bowen became the first Indiana governor who could serve a second consecutive term, thanks to a change in the state constitution.
Her daughter, Jacquie, would later wear the same T-shirt when Bowen came to Terre Haute in 2000 for a book signing for his autobiography — “Doc/Memories from a Life in Public Service.”
“He signed the T-shirt,” Exline said, “and I still have it.”
Bowen mentions Bauer in his book among a small group of Democrats he considers “memorable for their gentlemanly deportment and effectiveness.”
Exline’s father, William DuBois Jr., helped with interviews, editing and double checking facts for the book and is listed on the book’s cover. DuBois also ran Bowen’s re-election campaign for governor in 1976 and worked as a speech writer for Bowen. DuBois, who had been editor of the former Muncie Star, later became press secretary for Gov. Robert Orr.
“He was a very family-oriented governor,” Exline said of Bowen. “He would have his office staff over to his home in Bremen or down to Brown County. I remember going to both places for family picnics. I remember in Bremen he had a tractor lawn mower that he had a little wagon behind and he would take the little kids all around the property,” Exline said.
“When we were in Brown County, when I was in college, we went to a cookout. We all played volleyball and Gov. Bowen was right in there playing volleyball with us,” Exline said. “He was a very down-to-earth, fun-loving person, but very bright, obviously, very talented.”
Exline also recalls when she visited her father in the governor’s office, Bowen would always “take time to say hello and he always asked me about my grades, making sure I was doing OK in high school and making sure I was making the dean’s list in college,” Exline said.
“I knew he was always going to ask me how things were going on the academic front,” she said. “Of all the politicians I have known, Doc Bowen is somebody that everybody has something good to say about.” Exline said.
C. Joseph Anderson, a Terre Haute attorney, served in the Indiana House from 1969 to 1970.
“He was a great man. He was speaker of the House when I was a freshman member,” said Anderson, a Democrat. “He treated the Democrats, even though we were outnumbered about three to one, fair. He was very fair to us.”
Personally, Anderson recalls one day on his way to a breakfast to meet with a teachers’ group during a session of the Indiana General Assembly. “I stepped off a curb and hit a drain and tore the ligaments in my ankle. By the time I got to the Statehouse, the ankle was swollen twice its size,” Anderson said.
“Doc Bowen, Gov. Bowen, took care of me,” Anderson said. “He called the IU Medical Center and told the director that he had a legislator coming over that needed immediate attention. He sent the state police and they hauled me over,” Anderson said.
“I was like a VIP walking into the IU Med Center,” Anderson said with a chuckle. “He checked on me, and every day I had to check with him. I would tell everyone, ‘Hey he is not only House Speaker, but my personal physician.’”
Anderson said Bowen got a lot done as House Speaker, including a Uni-Gov law that united almost all of Marion County into one governmental entity, and creating Ivy Tech State College.
“I would say he was about as good a leader as I have ever seen,” Anderson said, adding that on a list of Indiana governors, Bowen “is about as good as you can find.”
C. Don Nattkemper, a Terre Haute attorney, served as chairman of the Vigo County Republican Party from 1976 to 1987.
“I found his door was always open,” Nattkemper said. “I thought a great deal of him.”
Nattkemper said Bowen took his role as governor to task like a caring physician.
“He was just like a country doctor who would look after his patients in a very caring manner and sacrificing his time and time from his family to accept this challenge of public service,” he said.
“He was the embodiment of what a true Hoosier would be. He was tolerant, compassionate, very caring, conservative and looked at the good in every person. He was just one who had a real work ethic and would listen to dissenting opinions and weigh them, without discarding them.”
Bowen’s first wife, Beth, died from multiple myeloma. His second wife, Rose, died from cancer. His third wife, Carol, survives him.
Nattkemper recalls a fellow lawyer diagnosed with multiple myeloma. On a trip to Terre Haute, Bowen met the lawyer, spending 45 minutes with him, assuring him of a longer life. “That probably did more for him than I can imagine,” Nattkemper said. The lawyer lived another 12 years, Nattkemper said.
Nattkemper also remembers one other event from Bowen, who had told him he was coming through Terre Haute. “He said he wanted to stop by and drop off something for me. He had a Sagamore of the Wabash and said, ‘I thought you might appreciate this.’ I certainly do and said it is a real honor,” said Nattkemper, who also received two Sagamores from former Gov. Robert Orr.
Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The funeral for former Indiana Gov. and U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Otis “Doc” Bowen will be at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Bremen, Bowen’s hometown.
• The calling hours will be from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the church.
• The 95-year-old Bowen died Saturday night at a northern Indiana nursing home.
• He was governor for two four-year terms beginning in January 1973. He was HHS secretary under President Reagan from December 1985 to January 1989.