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Otis R. Bowen greets Mary Brenton, a Martinsville resident, during the Indiana Governor’s Conference on Aging at the Grand Wayne Center in October 1986. The popular two-term Indiana governor, who died Saturday at 95, was secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the time of his Fort Wayne visit.

‘Great personal integrity’

Study both sides of every question

Solicit and listen to the information and desires of the people of Marshall County

Ask myself the following questions:

Is it morally right?

Is it good for Marshall County and the State of Indiana?

Will it furnish the greatest good to the greatest number?

Who will it hurt? How much? What can be done to remedy it?

Does it conform to rules of good sound judgment and economic principles?

After this preparation, study and guidance, vote according to my own reasoning and the dictates of my own conscience.

– First-term legislator Otis Bowen’s

personal creed

A public servant looking for lessons from Gov. Otis R. Bowen couldn’t do much better than to follow the pledge card the Bremen physician kept on his desk in the House Chamber in 1956. It served him well as a state representative, as speaker of the Indiana House, as governor and as U.S. secretary of health and human services.

More important, it served Hoosiers and all Americans well.

Bowen, who died Saturday at 95, might be the quintessential public servant. His medical training would have provided a comfortable career, but when the Marshall County medical society decided the coroner should be a physician, “Doc” agreed to run and won the first of 21 political contests. In his first elected office, the Republican son of a Democratic schoolteacher and basketball coach realized that many Indiana deaths were wrongly ruled accidental. His proposal for the state to hire pathologists as full-time regional medical examiners ran into political opposition, however, whetting his appetite for a voice in state government.

Bowen’s influence on Indiana policy is well documented. The creed he followed won him respect and recognition as an effective lawmaker. He launched his 1972 campaign for governor with a pledge to reform property taxes.

“I had been grousing for years about the unfairness of Indiana’s property tax system, which was put in place when property still was the primary indicator of wealth,” Bowen recalled in his 2000 memoir. “With levies increasing 10 to 12 percent annually, I believed that we ought to fund public education and local government with revenue from broader-based state-level taxes.”

His victory, and the subsequent property tax relief program, secured Bowen’s record as a forward-thinking public official and effective political leader. It was reinforced with strong accomplishments in improving Indiana’s parks and recreation areas, in completing major road projects and managing natural disasters including the 1978 blizzard and a deadly outbreak of tornadoes in 1974. He appointed the first female, Sue Shields, to a state court 35 years ago.

Bowen’s background in medicine made him the ideal nominee when President Ronald Reagan sought a new leader for Health and Human Services. Evidence of his personal creed is apparent in the secretary’s efforts to push a catastrophic health coverage package.

Kent Adams, a long-time neighbor and friend of the governor, got his own start in politics at Bowen’s urging. Adams spent 16 years in the Indiana House and Senate before returning to Kosciusko County and serving as county treasurer, Warsaw school board member and now clerk-treasurer for Winona Lake.

“He was a true statesman,” Adams said of his mentor. “His belief in public service really stood out. He had a lot of empathy and compassion for people and great personal integrity. He wanted to do things right, and his word was his bond.”

Not a bad model for anyone to follow.