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Otis R. Bowen : biography

February 26, 1918 - May 4, 2013

Otis Ray Bowen (February 26, 1918 – May 4, 2013) was a U.S. politician and physician. He served as the 44th Governor of Indiana from 1973 to 1981 and as Secretary of Health and Human Services from 1985 to 1989.


Bowen began his career on an internship from Memorial Hospital in South Bend, Indiana, in 1942. From 1943 to 1946 he served in the Medical Corps of the United States Army, rising from the rank of 1st lieutenant to captain. On his return from World War II, he set up his own medical practice in his home town of Bremen, Indiana, which he discontinued in 1972. During this time, he also was a member of staff for various hospitals in Indiana and served as coroner for Marshall County, Indiana. In 1981 he took up the post of clinical professor of family medicine at Indiana University.

During his medical and teaching career, Bowen also got into Republican Party politics, serving as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1956 to 1958 and again from 1960 to 1972. He was speaker of the house from 1967 to 1972, Vice Chairman of the legislative council from 1967 to 1968, and Chairman until 1972. After his unsuccessful attempt in 1968, he was elected Governor of Indiana in 1972 and was re-elected for a second term in 1976, making him the first Governor to serve for eight consecutive years in Indiana since 1851. His campaign slogan, featured in huge letters on billboards, was "Otis Bowen. He Hears You". As Governor he initiated a tax restructuring, and developed a state-wide emergency medical services system. From 1978 to 1985, he also served on the board of trustees for Valparaiso University. Simultaneously, Bowen served as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and the Midwestern Governors Association, and the National Governors Association. In 1980, he served as President of the Council of State Governments.

Bowen continued teaching at Indiana University until he was appointed by President Reagan as Secretary of Health and Human Services and confirmed by the US Senate on a vote of 93 to 2, making him the first medical doctor to serve in this position. It is said that as Secretary he always had a prescription pad handy, recommending remedies to treat minor ailments for both colleagues and members of the press. He served this position until 1989, when he retired to his home in Bremen, Indiana.

Community involvement

Bowen served on a number of committees and conferences, including the Education Commission of the States, and the President's Commission on Federalism. He was the chairman of the Paperwork Commission, Nursing Study Commission, and Medicare Study Commission. He has also received various awards, including the George F. Hixson award from Kiwanis International. Bowen is a Lutheran and member of the American Medical Association, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Alpha Omega Alpha, Phi Beta Pi, Delta Chi, and Kiwanis.

The Bowen Institute on Political Participation was founded by Ball State University in honor of Bowen. He attended every year and provided a congratulatory address to the graduates of this two-day seminar.


Bowen died May 4, 2013, at a nursing home in Donaldson, Indiana. He was 95. No cause of death has been given.

Early life

Bowen was born near Rochester, Indiana, to Vernie Bowen and Pearl Irene Wright. His father's side of the family was deeply religious and originally came from Ohio. Vernie graduated from Valparaiso University and was a teacher for 43 years. Vernie also owned a hardware store in Leiters Ford, was a trustee for Aubbeenaubbee Township, President of the Woodlawn Hospital Board of Trustees, and President of the Leiters Ford Merchants Association. His father was a Scottish Rite Freemason and a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. In 1915, Vernie married Pearl Irene Wright, whose family was also from Ohio and involved with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. Otis Bowen is a distant relative of George W. Bush through two brothers who immigrated to New England from Somerset, England.

Dr. Bowen received his elementary and high school education from local schools and went on to graduate from Indiana University with an A.B. in 1939 and M.D. in 1942. At IU, he became a member of the Delta Chi Fraternity as well as the Phi Beta Pi Medical Fraternity. He holds 30 honorary degrees including those from schools in his home state such as Indiana University, the University of Notre Dame, Ball State University, Valparaiso University, and Anderson University. In addition to an honorary degree, Bethel College also named their campus library in his honor.

He married Elizabeth Anne Steinmann in 1939, who died shortly before his term as Indiana Governor expired in 1981. They had four children; Rick, Judy, Tim, and Rob. Following her death, he married Rose May Hochstetler in September 1981. In 1991, Rose died. In 1992, he married Carol Hanh, a marriage that lasted until his death.

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Living octopus

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