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Ex-Ind. governor, HHS head Otis Bowen dies at 95

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 5, 2013 at 4:44 pm •  Published: May 5, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Otis R. Bowen, who overhauled Indiana's tax system as governor before helping oversee the federal response to the burgeoning AIDS epidemic during President Ronald Reagan's second term, has died. He was 95.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence said in a statement Sunday that Bowen died Saturday at a nursing home in Donaldson, a community about 25 miles south of South Bend that is near Bowen's hometown of Bremen. He didn't disclose the cause of death.

"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," Pence said.

Bowen, who was affectionately known as "Doc" for his pre-public service life as a family doctor in Bremen, was first elected to office in 1952 as Marshall County's coroner. His political rise would eventually lead to the governor's office, which he held from 1973 until 1981.

In December 1985, with the Reagan administration facing criticism over its response to the AIDS epidemic, Bowen was appointed to be secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

In that role, Bowen stressed educating the public about the dangers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Among his efforts was a mailing to 107 million households that he and Surgeon General C. Everett Koop arranged that offered advice about how to avoid contracting HIV, the precursor to AIDS, including the use of condoms.

During a 1987 news conference, Bowen offered what has become oft-repeated safe-sex advice: "Remember, when a person has sex, they're not just having it with that partner, they're having it with everybody that partner had it with for the past 10 years."

The stocky, bespectacled Bowen was speaker of the Indiana House and was very popular when he ran for governor and won in a landslide, defeating former Democratic Gov. Matthew Welsh.

Former Sen. Dick Lugar said Sunday that Bowen "was the best example of public leader in our state and nation because of his demeanor, intellect, wisdom and range of abilities."

"Whether it was a call from a patient, a constituent, or his country, Doc could not refuse to serve," Lugar said in a statement.

As governor, Bowen made state-backed property tax relief his top campaign pledge as those taxes had more than doubled in the previous decade. Legislation passed the next year doubled the sales tax to 4 percent and dedicating the extra revenue to property tax cuts. The proposal was so hotly contested that it only passed the state Senate when Bowen's lieutenant governor, Robert D. Orr, cast a tiebreaking vote.

However, the public largely embraced the tax system changes, boosting Bowen's popularity.

Under an amendment to the state constitution, he was the first governor since the mid-1800s eligible to seek a second consecutive term, which he easily won in 1976.

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