FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2008 file photo. former Indiana Gov. Otis Bowen is acknowledged by Gov. Mitch Daniels during the State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. | AP Photo~AJ Mast, File
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Top Indiana officials praised Otis Bowen’s humble nature and political legacy as a tax reformer Thursday during a Statehouse memorial for the popular two-term governor who began his career as a small-town physician.
Republican Gov. Mike Pence and three former governors — Democrats Evan Bayh and Joe Kernan and Republican Edgar Whitcomb — attended the service in the Statehouse Rotunda, along with some of Bowen’s relatives and former staffers from his years in politics.
House Speaker Brian Bosma addressed the gathering assembled before Bowen’s official state portrait and bronze bust. He said Bowen’s years as a physician who delivered babies in his northern Indiana hometown of Bremen defined him in many ways, even before he became governor and a member of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet.
“Doc Bowen will always be Doc Bowen. Regardless of his service in the House, as governor, as secretary of Health and Humans Services, he will always be Doc Bowen,” Bosma told about 150 people who attended the service, which included a reading from the Book of Revelation and a live rendition of “How Great Thou Art.”
Bowen, who died May 4 at age 95, was speaker of the Indiana House when he ran for governor in 1972 and won in a landslide, defeating former Democratic Gov. Matthew Welsh. The Republican went on to become the first Indiana governor since 1851 to serve two consecutive terms. His second term ended in 1981.
Four years later, Bowen was appointed secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, taking charge of the federal government’s response to the spread of AIDS after the Reagan administration was criticized for a slow initial response.
Don M. Newman, who served with Bowen as undersecretary of Health and Human Services, said the stocky, bespectacled Bowen came across as humble and down-to-earth — a stark contrast to most Reagan cabinet members.
“Doc was unique in the Reagan cabinet in that he was relatively ego-free,” Newman said.
Pence, who spoke last at the service, recounted Bowen’s early life serving in World War II, returning from the war to start a medical practice in Bremen, and his eventual political career that he said led to “one of the most consequential governorships of Indiana’s second century.”
Pence praised Bowen for successfully pushing to overhaul Indiana’s tax system as governor and his work that expanded the state’s parks and recreation system by creating five new state parks.
He also said that Bowen’s life was characterized by integrity, devotion to his family and a love of his home state.
“He will be missed. His contributions to Indiana will be remembered always,” Pence said to applause.