Otis Bowen Oral History Interview


SCARPINO: We are on the record, and for the record with the recorder going, I’d like to thank you very much for being gracious and allowing me to come to your brand new home and interview you in person at your dining room table. I would like to ask you for permission to record the interview, to transcribe the interview, and to deposit the recording and the transcription in the IUPUI Archives and Special Collections for the use of their patrons.

BOWEN: You have my permission to do all three of those things. I have to apologize to you, though, because of my hoarseness and because I am forgetful and I look forward to you asking me questions that I can answer.

SCARPINO: No need for an apology, and I guess I could say for the record that I’m a professor so I get paid to be forgetful (laughing). So we can duel on that one. I’d like to start by asking you one question about your childhood and about your early adult years, and it’s a really simple question. As you look back on your formative years, was there anyone who really stood out and influenced you as a leader?

BOWEN: Well the answer to that is easy, and I want to single out my mother and father for having been the inspiration for me to do whatever I was able to do.

SCARPINO: Was there anything about your mother or father that…?

BOWEN: Well, my father was the disciplinarian, although he was always firm but fair, and my mother was the one who spread the balm out and kind of kept things on even keel.

SCARPINO: It sounds like a fair partnership. What caused you to become interested in medicine?

BOWEN: I had two cousins that were doctors and I was a little bit younger than either one of them, and I always looked up to them. But I had never thought of doing anything else from literally childhood on up than to be a physician. I had a second thing that I could be if I were able to, if I were not able to find the money to go to medical school my second preference was to be a physician—I’m sorry—was to be a farmer. That sounds a little peculiar but I loved the outdoors and was raised on a small farm, and then if that were not going to prove to be possible I would have tried to have been a school teacher. I don’t think I would have made a good school teacher because I can’t talk that long on one particular subject.

SCARPINO: You went to medical school at Indiana University, is that right?

BOWEN: Yes. I had my pre-medical work at Indiana University and also my medical degree was from Indiana University. Then I took my internship at Memorial Hospital here in South Bend.

SCARPINO: Is that the hospital that used to be called Epworth Hospital?

BOWEN: That is the old Epworth Hospital, right.

SCARPINO: The next question I want to ask you is about your intern experience. I read your book, Doc: Memories from a Life in Public Service, in which you described your internship, your medical internship, as difficult and demanding. And of course that was in the early years of World War II. I was wondering if you’ve learned anything during your intern experience that influenced the kind of leader you became?

BOWEN: Being an intern at that time was an excellent time to learn a lot, and the reason is that it was at that time when all of the younger physicians were being taken into the service and that left interns to carry on when the senior physicians were gone. So we got to do the things in the practice at the hospital that you wouldn’t ever ordinarily be permitted to do. You had to do it because you were there and our internship was a year long and during that time we got to do difficult procedures in obstetrics and we had a lot of emergency room practice. So, all in all, it was an excellent internship and I think that I was made a much better physician for having gone through it.

SCARPINO: And you think because it was early World War II it was a unique experience?

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: There’s a question that I’d like to ask you that’s not directly related to leadership, but I’m just dying to ask you this. What was it like to learn and to begin to practice medicine at a time before antibiotics?

BOWEN: Well, you had to depend a lot on just being a good listener and a sympathetic person. About the only real things we had early in my internship were aspirin and a few simple drugs like mercurochrome, which was a big antiseptic at that time. At that time, sulfanilamide was the first magic drug to come along. It was magic, even though now it would not be considered too good, but it was great at that time. You could cure pneumonias much quicker whereas previous to those times with a pneumonia case, you just had to depend on the good Lord helping you to find some relief for these individuals.

SCARPINO: And that’s an antibacterial?

BOWEN: Sorry?

SCARPINO: Sulfa drug is an antibacterial?

BOWEN: Yeah. Sulfanilamide and then, we went through a whole series of sulfadiazine and all the sulfas, and then the miraculous drug was penicillin and it was so miraculous then that we heard that since gonorrhea occurs fairly often in places where you’re having war, penicillin would cure gonorrhea with one or two shots, and that was magic. Another thing we heard was when Churchill went over to visit some of the areas where fighting was going on, he developed pneumonia, and with three or four shots of the antibiotic penicillin was magic in curing Churchill’s pneumonia.

SCARPINO: I hadn’t heard that. That’s amazing. Your term as a medical intern ended in June of 1943 and you went into the military. According to what I read, you reported first to Carlisle Barracks, July 3rd, 1943 and you served at Camp Cooke, California. By August of 1943 you had been assigned to the 342 medical group.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: And I read that your first assignment was a collecting company CO and then you were CO of a medical clearing company?

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: I’m wondering while you were in California and you served as a military officer and a military doctor, did you learn anything from those experiences that influenced the kind of leader you became?

BOWEN: Well, you’re talking about the time when I was just transferred from one unit to another, I guess. A collecting company was a company that did collection of the injured soldiers and brought them back to their first aid stations. Then the clearing company, I was chief officer or commander, when I was in the clearing company and that was one level past the collecting station. I went into a medical clearing company, and there, they were able to do surgery and things that had to be done before they could be transferred to the field hospitals.

SCARPINO: Was the collecting company, were they making triage decisions?

BOWEN: Right. Collecting companies – yes, they would.

SCARPINO: Did you have to personally make those decisions?

BOWEN: Well, I was transferred when I was, spent the first few months in Hawaii, and… what was your question again?

SCARPINO: You said that the collecting company makes triage decisions and I was wondering if you personally were involved with doing that.

BOWEN: No. I was transferred to the medical administrative cadre. Instead of taking care of patients when we were in Okinawa. I was in the plans and operating division of the medical corps.

SCARPINO: After California, you were assigned to Schofield Barracks as a captain in the 10th Army and then you participated as a physician in the battle of Okinawa.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: I’m wondering, did you have any experiences as a medical officer in combat that influenced the kind of leader you became later on? What was it like to be there on Okinawa as a medical officer?

BOWEN: Well, it was kind of a trying time because we were close enough to the front that we had to get in our foxholes now and then, but also, I did not do much actual medical care during that time. I was in the medical administrative that time and that was the… oh, have to pardon me again, I’m trying to recall…

SCARPINO: You said you were in medical administration on Okinawa.

BOWEN: Yes, and we were in the plans and operating area, and the next stop from Okinawa was Tokyo Bay and that was in our plans and operating division, so it was sort of paperwork, but administrative medical paperwork.

SCARPINO: So you were planning for the invasion of Japan.

BOWEN: We were planning for the invasion, yes, but I don’t want to mislead. Being a lowly captain, I was not in on the final decisions of who does what. But I was one of them that was in it.

SCARPINO: Well, you outranked me. I was a lowly lieutenant and I wasn’t making strategic decisions either. I read that you worked with Japanese prisoners on Okinawa.

BOWEN: When the war was over, I was assigned as the medical individual to go to the areas in the Ryukyu Islands where the Japanese were not sure that the war was over. So as a physician, we carried a carbine and also had a pistol. I don’t know whether I would have been able to use it but we had them on us. That made an impression, I think, on the Japanese. But it was my job to ascertain what was necessary to physically take care of these Japanese people.

SCARPINO: Was their condition pretty serious?

BOWEN: Well, the conditions were terrible. They used caves whenever they could, not only to hide in, but also they put the cots in there to handle their sick and injured people. It was dank and wet and dark and then when you get outside you’d see when they were fixing their food, they’d put it in a huge container of rice. That’s all that I saw that they had. But there were probably as many flies on the rice as there was rice in the dish.

SCARPINO: That didn’t make you want to join in for dinner?

BOWEN: No, no it didn’t, and in addition to that, the outfit that I was with had the job of taking the huge bombs from the DUKW, which was the… you could go in water with it. But they put these bombs in the DUKW and then take them out a mile or so and dump them overboard. So I imagine there’s quite a few of them over there yet.

SCARPINO: You were directly involved in doing that?

BOWEN: Yes, I was.


BOWEN: During the one trip we had a soldier that developed appendicitis and that’s the only actual real medicine that I did. So me and another physician who was there did an appendectomy on that LST landing ship.

SCARPINO: Actually on the LST? My goodness.

BOWEN: Yes. The part that we were in when we were on that mission was to… well, coming between the islands, we had this huge typhoon and that was more scary than what the war itself was in. The ship that we were on would be on the crest of two or three waves that we’d go down, and then the boat would go down with it and… we were going 120 knots an hour, the wind was. That’s about 140 mile an hour wind and that was a very, very scary few hours. We had the anchors of the destroyer. I didn’t see this, but I was told that our anchors got tangled with the destroyer and we actually were washed up on the shore of the island of Amami. So, you see, it was an exciting time.

SCARPINO: That would have scared me. After World War II you elected to practice medicine in 1946 in Bremen, Indiana.

BOWEN: Right. Bremen, Indiana.

SCARPINO: Why did you pick Bremen?

BOWEN: I picked Bremen because they needed a physician there and the doctor who I replaced was going into missionary medicine and he had an office set up and the instruments and things in it that made it handy to say yes. The other reason is that this was close enough to South Bend where we had an excellent medical consultation ward. So that I took my patients who needed more than what we could give them in a family practice setting. We took them to South Bend and Mishawaka to the bigger hospitals and that again was a very good learning experience even though I was on my own. But you still had the effects of the war there for a little while.

SCARPINO: By the effects of the war, you mean wounded coming home?

BOWEN: Yeah. Coming home and the older doctors that happened to be in the service at that time did not all go back into private practice. So again, we had no problem developing a full-time very busy practice within the first couple of weeks of time.

SCARPINO: In 1946, did rural physicians make house calls?

BOWEN: Did we make house calls? That was the most interesting part of practicing medicine was making house calls. You had to do a lot of decisions without the help of fancy instruments at that time. We practiced in an area where there was a big Amish section and they were great people. I really loved the Amish people for they are so self sufficient really. But when they called or they didn’t call, they sent a neighbor in or they sent one of their kids in and said, “Mom is sick, would you come help?” Well you knew right away after a couple of times of having been through that, and you found out that they were going to have a baby, that we ended up every time we were in the Amish area, we took instruments along to take care of the patient.

SCARPINO: So you delivered babies in people’s homes?

BOWEN: Yeah, in the early two years or so we did. We had a small hospital that was created from a nursing home there and that small hospital was used by the Amish. They would all like to go home the next day, but they used the hospital all the time.

SCARPINO: You mentioned in your book, Doc, that you saw your first patient, a man named Fred Lehman, on Memorial Day evening, 1946, and that he had a case of poison ivy.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: And then you talked in the book about your practice being rewarding and challenging. Was a general practice physician in a small town a community leader?

BOWEN: I would say very much so. People did look up to them and they enjoyed a little more than just a doctor-patient relationship. You became friends with them and they paid their bills. But if they made a call, you knew you better go because they’d already tried all the home medicines. One interesting thing that I added in the book about a little Amish boy whose tonsils were so huge that he just snorted when he breathed, and I finally convinced the mother and father that he needed to have his tonsils out, which you don’t do many of that with the Amish, and they did and we took the tonsils and adenoids out, and then about two weeks later, the little boy came in with some other ailment and he got in the door, and he says, “Hey Doc, thanks for taking my tonsils out. Now they can’t find me when we play hide and seek!” (laughter)

SCARPINO: That’s good. In 1956, you ran successfully for the seat from Marshall County in the Indiana House of Representatives.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: Prior to that, you’d been elected county coroner, but 1956 was your first statewide office.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: What motivated a GP (general practitioner) from Bremen to go into politics?

BOWEN: Well, I never particularly wanted to go in, but the office of coroner became available, and my precinct committeeman and county chairman came around and asked if I would run for that job, and I said yes, I would take my turn at it. So we ran and we won, and as I served that four years I saw a lot of things that should be done that weren’t being done and vice versa. So I became more and more interested in local and state government. So when the position of state representative became available I decided to take a run for it, and I would not have been able to have done it had I not had two good medical partners in Dr. Stine and Dr. Burket who were superb physicians and we had a three-member family practice group that served the people of that area very well.

SCARPINO: So your partners covered for you while you were in Indianapolis and so on.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: In 1958 you lost a bid for re-election to the Indiana House of Representatives by four votes. What impact did that loss have on your desire to serve in the statehouse?

BOWEN: Well, I was beaten in the election by four votes which turned out to be one-tenth of one vote per precinct. So, when the votes were all counted—and that’s when we had paper ballots—when the votes were all counted, we lacked four votes. I went up to the headquarters of my opponent and congratulated him and at that time the reporter of the local paper was there and the next day when the headline comes out it said, “BOWEN: Good Sport.” After that I didn’t have any trouble winning any of my elections. In fact, counting primary elections and running for speaker and so forth I had been in 26 different elections.

SCARPINO: According to my count, you lost one.

BOWEN: I lost just that one for State Representative. But I ran for Governor when… the time when the candidates were chosen at a convention rather than the other way.

SCARPINO: Starting in 1960, you were elected to seven consecutive terms in the Indiana House of Representatives.

BOWEN: Right. I had seven terms and the first term I was just on the committee that dealt with public health, and then I became minority leader on my fourth term, I believe it was, and then after serving as minority leader, the Republicans got control of the House after the next election, and at that time and because of my experience as a minority leader, I was able to win the election as the Speaker of the House. That was probably my most important election that I ever had, was running for the Speaker of the House. The Speaker is chosen by the members of his own party, and the first ballot, I had an opponent from the big city area.

SCARPINO: Marion County?

BOWEN: Yeah, well actually he was from Noblesville, but essentially that’s the same. The first ballot came back 32 to 32. The second ballot I won by. . . I don’t know what that was. I won the election and it ended up 34 to 32. It was 62 to 63 members I believe at the House at that time.

SCARPINO: What was your base of support within your own party?

BOWEN: Well, if this turned out and that there is evidence all through Indiana’s elections, there was an urban versus rural controversy going on and it ended up with, I think it was… almost totally a rural versus urban election.

SCARPINO: So you had the rural support?

BOWEN: I had the rural support.

SCARPINO: And your opponent had the urban support?

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: What was your opponent’s name?

BOWEN: My opponent’s name was Howard. That was his last name.

SCARPINO: Why do you think you were so successful with the voters to be elected to seven terms in the Indiana House of Representatives?

BOWEN: Well, I guess part of it was that being a physician, you got perhaps a little more publicity than otherwise, and as a physician, people assumed that you were a pretty bright fellow, and as a physician who tried to be as compassionate as he possibly could that wore off on the voters, and they put me in.

SCARPINO: It’s kind of an unusual combination for a doctor to get into politics and stay there.

BOWEN: It seems unusual but it’s actually a very, very good experience because you are used to facing emergencies and you could do that with a certain amount of calmness that ran off from the. . .you also were used to losing sleep and having missed meals and… I guess that’s it.

SCARPINO: Do you think it’s important for a leader to have the ability to stay calm in a crisis?

BOWEN: Oh, I think it is essential, really. Yeah.

SCARPINO: Can you think of a time when you were serving the State of Indiana when that really made a difference to you, to be able to stay calm in a crisis?

BOWEN: Well, at least 50% of all things that went through the House and the Senate were either directly or indirectly related to health. Those units had such things as an egg board and an animal board and some hundred or so, and I don’t know if that’s an exact figure, but I’d say at least a hundred or so commissions and committees that you’re responsible to appointment and the appointing of them was difficult because the creation of them by the general assembly was that if there were seven members on the committee, four of those had to be of your own party and the other three had to be the opposite party. But the biggest problem was, we’ll say the animal health board, besides having seven on there one had to be a sheep grower, one had to be a, related to the other farm animals, so it was difficult to find a Republican House… or I mean a cattle grower or a hog grower. So it was interesting, but that had its good point too. When I would make the appointments, people couldn’t believe it that I would call them personally and ask if they would serve in the, as I, many of them, when I called and said this is Governor Bowen calling and they would, half of them, would kind of giggle and say yeah, yeah. (laughter)

SCARPINO: People actually said, “Is it really you?”

BOWEN: Yeah, right. And that went over real good because you were dealing really with the people in your own party and that had a hangover effect when it’d come to the next election when they realized that you were trying to make the appointments the best way possible.

SCARPINO: While you were in service to the people of Indiana and the state as a state representative and as minority leader and speaker of the house and later as governor, did you meet any individuals who really stood out as leaders? Who really influenced you as you thought about leadership?

BOWEN: Well, when you’re talking about leadership, it’s kind of hard to determine how far back you want to go, and you couldn’t possibly have a better leader than Lincoln and Churchill and people like that. More modern times, I really considered Truman, and he’s a different party than mine, but I thought Truman was an excellent president when nobody thought he possibly could. There, essentially, you could call every elected congressman or senator or even state legislator—they had to be leaders or they wouldn’t have been appointed or wouldn’t have won in the election. So, I could name probably 20 people that could be called a leader.

SCARPINO: Was there anybody in Indiana politics that really stood out?

BOWEN: Well, the answer is yes. My seatmate during the first couple three terms was Paul Myers, who was raised and lived on a farm, and he wasn’t, in my opinion, noted for any bills that he passed, but he was a great mentor and he was kind and gentle and honest and those type of people I liked a lot better than others who tried to be too flamboyant and so forth.

SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s important for a good leader to be a good mentor?

BOWEN: Yeah. I think it is. He or she, if they are a mentor, they need to be people who… well, a leader has to have determination. I was accused a lot of times of being stubborn which, instead of stubborn, I like to call it determination. But I would classify a leader as one who has determination, one who is decisive, and one who is dependable. I have the four Ds here that I fall back on and almost missed it here. Determination, decisiveness, dependability and diligence. The leader should be acquainted with those four terms. They’ve got to have candor, they’ve got to be honest, and they’ve got to be open-minded, and emotionally stable. There’s just oodles of things that they need to be, and I think a great many of them at least start out with those intentions and along the way sometimes they get sidetracked.

SCARPINO: What do you think sidetracks people?

BOWEN: Well, the desire for influence and power, I think, probably.

SCARPINO: You ran successfully, we talked a little bit about this, for speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives in 1967, and then you served through four legislative sessions.

BOWEN: Three regular and one special session, so yeah, it was four.

SCARPINO: Was ’72 the special session?

BOWEN: No, in ’72 I was just elected.

SCARPINO: Okay. Why did you decide to run for Speaker of the House?

BOWEN: Well, I had an ego, I guess, big enough to think that I could do a good job.

SCARPINO: Did you solicit it or were you asked, or both, a combination thereof?

BOWEN: They don’t give it to you; you work for it. When I was running for election in ’72, I saw persons either in their homes, or out in their barnyard, or anyplace, 1800 people who were politically astute. I knew these were county chairmen and vice chairmen, and we’ll say the banker and the head of the chamber of commerce and people like that, you’d make an effort to see, because they were the ones that who were the shakers and movers. I traveled a little over 25,000 miles and. . . I guess that’s about it.

SCARPINO: So this was in your first campaign as governor?


SCARPINO: What kind of impact do you think you had as Speaker of the House?

BOWEN: Well, the Speaker of the House is the most powerful individual in the whole general assembly during the time that they’re in session. I think that you could even consider that they had a little more, well a little bit—help me out here.

SCARPINO: You said the Speaker was the most powerful person in the general assembly and perhaps a little more power than the governor?

BOWEN: Yeah, than even the governor had at that particular time.

SCARPINO: What I’d like to do is, I sent you our standard leadership questions.

BOWEN: Yeah.

SCARPINO: I’m going to drop a few of those in, and just ask them to you the way they’re written there. The first question I had is, what do you read? What does Dr. Bowen read?

BOWEN: I read at least a couple of news magazines like Newsweek and the like, and occasionally historical novels. I’m reading one right now on the second World War, which I think lacks enough praise because that was one of the biggest things in the history of this world, was the second World War.

SCARPINO: It surely was, wasn’t it?

BOWEN: And they did not receive the credit that they were due. Believe it or not, my wife and I have devotions every morning, so we have a little Bible study plus the daily Portals of Prayer it’s called. And I, after I’ve read a couple of historical or heavier reading I will admittedly take out something very light reading for the next book and sort of interchange the “word inaudible” the reading of the book.

SCARPINO: You mentioned reading the Bible and so on. Do you think it’s important for a leader to have faith?

BOWEN: To have what?


BOWEN: Oh my, yes. I think it’s very important to have faith. I think by and large most of the legislators, and most of those who serve in government, do have more faith than what they’re given credit for. The prayer breakfasts and things like that are well-attended.

SCARPINO: Do you think that a leader should read?

BOWEN: Do a leader?

SCARPINO: Do you think a leader should read? Do you think that in order to be a good leader that a person should read?

BOWEN: Oh, I get it. I’m sorry. Yeah, I think that he needs to be kept up on current event things more than the average individual, and his choice of what he reads, I imagine it varies as much as there are legislators there.

SCARPINO: Did you ever read about other leaders?

BOWEN: Yeah, I’ve read several books on Lincoln especially. He was one of my all-time heroes and three or four of the books I’ve read on the wars like the Civil War and the Revolutionary War.

SCARPINO: You’ve mentioned Abraham Lincoln a couple of times and Winston Churchill. Other than those two, who do you think were important leaders? If you had to pick a list, who would you put on your list of important leaders?

BOWEN: Well, of course here again, I would have to put in every president. He’s a leader, even if you don’t like what he’s leading you to, he’s a leader, and I guess that’s where I would put Clinton. He was actually a brilliant individual, a lot of charisma, and I have said many times that if he were to run right now, I wouldn’t be surprised that he would win, in spite of all his shenanigans.

SCARPINO: And you met Bill Clinton, right? You have a picture of him on your wall.

BOWEN: Yeah, well I honor the position more than I do the man.

SCARPINO: Were there any individuals who helped you along the way as you developed as a leader? You mentioned your parents and your seatmate.

BOWEN: Yeah, I have to put Mom and Dad in there. They belong really at the top of the list. I’d have to put Beth, my first wife, in there. She was a doer and was a very popular lady. I guess that I should mention the fact that I’ve been criticized for it, but no one should criticize having married three times without them having been through it themselves. My first wife passed away at the age of 62 after 43 years of marriage, and she died of myeloma which is a form of cancer of the bone marrow. My second wife, we were together 12 years, and she died of cancer of the lung. And both of them had tremendous pain through it all. So it made for difficult handling of some of the problems that came up but I was fortunate to have chosen a lot of good aides that carried on well. In the last few months of Beth’s—she was in the hospital and I just stayed there night and day. I forget where we were now.

SCARPINO: You were talking about people who influenced you or inspired you.

BOWEN: I am going to name a couple of my high school teachers. One was named Charlie Klein who was a farmer and a schoolteacher. He taught Latin, which I didn’t like very well, but he was a great teacher and he was what we call our homeroom teacher, and he was a futurist. He would stand in that first 10 or 15 minutes of his class and say, “Now it won’t be very long until you’ll be sitting here with a big thing in front of you that’s going to show you all the pictures and it will be from Europe or Asia. They’ll be from all over. And of course we were all bug-eyed on how can that be, but he turned out to be so right. Another was a lady who was one of the teachers. She was a widow lady but was gentle and kind and good, but also she was very strict. And I guess it’s those strict ones that you remember the longest. Paul Myers, who I mentioned a while ago, was one of my favorite people. In the parliamentarian, George Meyers was also another one, because he kept me straight when I was in the chair conducting the general assembly.

SCARPINO: He was a representative from where?

BOWEN: Parke County.

SCARPINO: Parke County.

BOWEN: Yeah, one of the smaller counties.

SCARPINO: Western Indiana?

BOWEN: Yeah, near Terre Haute.

SCARPINO: Do you think that having a mentor or mentors played an important role in your development as a leader? Were there people who mentored you?

BOWEN: I think it would be the ones that I’ve already mentioned, but there are two or three others that I have written down. I anticipated that question so I wrote it down, (laughter) some of the leaders that I think were very significant in my life. The one I’ll mention now was in the modern time here, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and he has been the number one individual as far as I’m concerned in the development of the cures for types of infectious diseases, the most important of which most everything that has the AIDS name to it, has also mentioned Dr. Fauci. He has been the number one fellow in the research on AIDS and he still is in that position. Dr. Foray, who was the head of our pathology department in medical school, was an outstanding individual as far as trying not to gig you, but to help you along the way and make sure that you were a success in medical school. The same goes for Dr. Jay Richey who was the favorite of almost all the medical students because of his gentleness and integrity. Dick Benning, who was my minority leader when I was Speaker of the House, was an outstanding, brilliant young man who helped complete the interstate system in Indiana. It was in his administration that he had some good ways in getting around some of the difficult problems that faced us in getting the interstates around Indianapolis all completed. Two democrats sacrificed their political career by voting for my property tax relief system. They believed in it, they were good friends, and they knew that it would be difficult for them to run for another time, but Jimmy Plaskett who was from southern Indiana and Bob Mayhold, he was a merchant in South Bend. Both of them broke ranks and I would not have had the success I did in the property tax thing if it had not been for them.

SCARPINO: This is while you were governor?

BOWEN: Yeah, while I was governor. I guess there are others.

SCARPINO: Have you ever mentored other people along the way?

BOWEN: Have I mentored them?

SCARPINO: Have you served as a mentor to other people?

BOWEN: About three months before any election, my living room was almost like a… there’s a business taking place there. They would come in and want advice on how to run, what to run, and I guess it was interesting because I got a little amused at some of it, but at the same time I had sympathy for what they were doing. I’d been through it. Where were we now?

SCARPINO: I was asking you if you had ever mentored anyone?

BOWEN: Oh, yeah. I would call that mentoring. They would come in, and it would be one or two times before the election and they would get antsy and worried and then they’d begin spending a lot of their own money, just to. . . I always gave them advice; don’t run your own campaign and don’t run on your own money, because you can make a pauper out of yourself within a day’s time if you do it. You need the help. To win, you have to have a good candidate, and you have to have the money, and you have to have a good organization.

SCARPINO: Was running your own campaign a little bit like trying to diagnose yourself?

BOWEN: Yeah, it would be, I think. You need people to be campaign chairman. You need people who have had some experience.

SCARPINO: One more of the leadership questions that I sent you. Do you think that networks play a role in the development of leaders?

BOWEN: I think they do but I’m not sure how. I had that little note here too. I don’t know how unless, well, unless they were really behind you, and it’s easy to tell whether an individual is going to vote for you or not. If he just says, “Hi, thanks for coming and best wishes,” why, well, you know, it sounds favorable, mark him off.

SCARPINO: Well, you mentioned the first time that you ran for governor, all the doors you knocked on and all the hands you shook and all the movers and shakers you greeted. Was that sort of creating a network of support?

BOWEN: Yeah, it would be, but some of those I don’t think would fit in that. For example, I went out in the field at dusk one time and stayed ‘til after dark, where a farmer had a fish pond and he was fishing and he wasn’t going to give up his fishing. I also forded a swollen creek to get to a person’s place. It took a lot of tolerance and a lot of patience in order to get through the campaign, statewide.

SCARPINO: Do you think that tolerance and patience are important leadership qualities?

BOWEN: Yes. I think tolerance and patient are very, very important. Even-tempered, but at the same time you have to be a striver. You have to put your whole self into it or you’re not going to win. It isn’t any place for a shy individual, and I always considered myself reasonably shy, but people aren’t going to just say, “Here, I want you for my state representative. I want you for this.” You’ve got to ask them for it, and one of the things you need to do if you really want their vote, is to knock on their door, but obviously it’s impossible to knock on that many doors to make a difference. But here’s where some of your mentors and your coaches come in. They organize networks of their own and you get to get in a little, not one big one, but you get in a lot of places.

SCARPINO: In 1968, you unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for governor.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: Why did you decide to run for governor?

BOWEN: Well, again for the same reasons that I ran for the second time. I felt that I was very interested in state and local government in the first place, and secondly, I think I had enough smarts and enough ego that I could make a difference.

SCARPINO: Do you think that ego is important for a leader?

BOWEN: Yeah. You have to use it carefully though. You’ve got to be cautious about touting your own self so much, yet, the guy that you’re talking to, if he doesn’t know you, you can talk without much ego and you can make a difference on what the outcome is going to be when the election day comes around.

SCARPINO: Did you enjoy the fundraising part of running for office?

BOWEN: No. Fundraising was the most difficult thing of all for me to do. Even knocking on doors asking for their vote was difficult, but the first knock breaks the ice and you can do it, although you’ve got to be cautious about the big I.

SCARPINO: Why do you think that your bid to become the Republican candidate in 1968 was not successful?

BOWEN: That was a place where the county and district chairman of the big counties had joined forces and had one that they decided— that was about 15 or 20 people—they decided who was going to be state auditor, and who was going to be the whatever offices there, and they made it work. I blame one individual for that, and yet he had every right to do it, and that was Keith Bulen, who I know you heard about him. He was very, very ruthless, but again, I want to thank him because had it not been for that, had I won in ’68, I would not have had the opportunity to have a second term.

SCARPINO: Who was Keith Bulen’s candidate in ’68?

BOWEN: In ’68 it was Whitcomb.

SCARPINO: I should probably say, just for the sake of full disclosure, that many years ago I interviewed Keith Bulen.

BOWEN: Oh, is that right?

SCARPINO: Of course he’s deceased, but I did interview him.

BOWEN: I went to his funeral and he was a brilliant politician, but he was a ruthless politician.

SCARPINO: Would you, even though he did not support your candidacy, would you see him as having been an effective leader in his own way?

BOWEN: In his own way he was a very effective leader. He was a leader of this group of 15 or 20 people that he corralled to take each of the elected seats.

SCARPINO: In 1972 you ran successfully for governor and in 1972 Indiana’s voters ratified an amendment to the state constitution that allowed governors to succeed themselves. So you became the first Indiana governor to serve consecutive terms. Why do you think you won in 1972?

BOWEN: I think because of the hard work I did running. Making house calls—1800 or so—and those were chosen people because it was done at convention at that time. They were delegates from the previous convention and so there were about two-thirds of the people were repeaters as far as being candidates, and that’s the reason for that.

SCARPINO: 1972 was a pretty good year for Republicans in general.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: As I recall, Richard Lugar defeated Vance Hartke for the U.S. Senate. Did you work at all with Richard Lugar?

BOWEN: Oh, yes. I worked with him. He was a good candidate.

SCARPINO: What made him a good candidate?

BOWEN: He was a good candidate because he was intellectually a giant and I think he was able to get the people to believe that.

SCARPINO: Now, he did come out of the Bulen machine.

BOWEN: Yeah, he did. But I think he was more of a statesman, and he didn’t have to try to get the votes of these others.

SCARPINO: You decided to run again in 1976, and you won again in 1976.

BOWEN: Before I forget, the best weapon that we had in 1972 was McGovern.

SCARPINO: (laughter) Okay, why?

BOWEN: Because he was touted to be such a liberal individual, and Nixon, that was his re-election time. So he was in the good graces of everybody at that time. But I think McGovern helped the Republican Party more than any other of the things.

SCARPINO: In fact, you defeated Matthew Welsh, the Democratic governor, the sitting governor, right?

BOWEN: Right. Matthew was a gentleman and a good man. I liked him and we got along fine. We didn’t throw mud at each other. It can be done.

SCARPINO: Actually, I made a mistake. He was not a sitting governor because he couldn’t succeed himself, but he had been governor in the past.

BOWEN: Yeah. Who, Lugar?

SCARPINO: No, Matthew Welsh.

BOWEN: Yeah, Matthew, okay.

SCARPINO: What do you think were your significant accomplishments as governor? As you look back on it, what really stands out about what you did?

BOWEN: Well, the number one thing that I ran on, over and over, was the property tax relief. We were successful, although it was difficult to get it through. We were successful in getting it through, and it worked, and it worked well for about 15 years, then the legislature began nibbling away at all the controls and when you lost the controls, then the property taxes started to go up higher and higher until over the last several years and including now, property tax is one of the big issues.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you two questions that I hope are not too technical for people who listen to this recording, but you mentioned property tax relief as one of your accomplishments and of course that’s one of the things that anybody who writes about you as governor mentions. So what was the nature of that property tax relief? How did you change the property tax system in Indiana? What was it that you did to change the way property taxes were administered and calculated?

BOWEN: Well, it was a complicated thing.

SCARPINO: Maybe I could break it down a little bit. What was wrong with the system that you wanted to change? What is it that you want to fix?

BOWEN: Well, it was way too high and especially for the funding of local schools and local government and public education. At that time, the property taxes were paying for 65% of the school cost. Right after our property tax relief bill went into effect, that was reversed so 65% of the cost of public education was from property taxes, 35% was for the other. That was the big thing of course, and in order to do that, we had to make up the loss through sales tax and the income type tax.

SCARPINO: Was raising sales tax and raising income-type taxes a risky proposal for a Republican governor?

BOWEN: It was risky because they were reluctant to do it because they wanted to run for re-election. So it took a little guts for those who voted for it to do it, but there I guess is where leadership came in. We were able to guide the new bill.

SCARPINO: Do you think that a leader has to be willing to take a risk?

BOWEN: Oh. He sure does. A leader has to be above public opinion, and he has to be out ahead of public opinion, is what I meant.

SCARPINO: You mentioned that after about 15 years the legislature began to nibble away at the controls on the property. What kind of controls were they nibbling away at?

BOWEN: Well, it was on the establishment of control of the expenditures. They froze the levy instead of the rate and that made a big difference in the program.

SCARPINO: Besides property tax relief, what else stands out as you look back on your years as governor?

BOWEN: EMS. Honestly not too many people know that, but that was one of the things that we were able to do, is establish an emergency medical system. The reason that was so necessary is that in the rural areas, there was no way of getting injured and ill people to hospitals. The undertakers were using their ambulances to do that and they were losing money at it so they were rather rapidly getting out of the business of being an ambulance. So we developed the system of emergency medical system which created almost ambulances, in a few years, to every area of the state and it’s actually probably saved more lives than any other thing that happened in the last many, many years. Another thing was the medical malpractice act. Doctors were quitting practice because their insurance rates went so high that they couldn’t afford it. Further than that, with the expense being so great, access to care was going down and we had to do something. So we worked with local people and chambers of commerce and all the civic-minded people that we had to have some change so that the doctors would not quit practicing, which they were in droves. Insurance companies were refusing to insure doctors, so with the combination of those things, we were able to establish a medical malpractice act and it’s still serviceable today.

SCARPINO: And did that limit the size of the award?

BOWEN: Yes. It limited the size of the award at that time and after a couple of years, rightfully, those levies became a little higher. So that I think that, I don’t know what it is now, but I know that it did get up to close to a million dollars instead. So, that was another one of them that we considered a substantial thing. Another big one was the improvement at that time of our natural resources and parks system. We were way down when I went in, and one of the main things that we focused on for a new project was improving the parks system in Indiana. And even though it isn’t quite as good now as it was shortly afterwards, it still has some very desirable parts to it.

SCARPINO: There was a prison riot on Labor Day, 1973.

BOWEN: 1973, right.

SCARPINO: Was that a key crisis of your administration?

BOWEN: I had only been in office about two and half months or so, and the prisoners had taken I think three people hostage, and they had a message that they had to have more or better food, better life in the prison. And they insisted that the news media be in on a conference between the prisoners and the guards, and having the prisoners in made sure to them that they were going to get heard. We were able to tiptoe through this without a single injury, but we did have a lot of damage done to tables and chairs and things like that.

SCARPINO: Property damage, but no injuries?

BOWEN: Property damage was big, and the Indianapolis Star and other people felt we were babying the prisoners too much. But as I mentioned, some of the people who were fussing about that were the type would just as soon line them up and shoot them. But we were able to get through that without a bit of injury in spite of the Star’s editorial cartoon that showed me in a rocking chair holding a prisoner on my lap and rocking him and feeding him cookies and milk. Well, those things I guess you kind of expect, but it was kind of a low blow. I hadn’t been initiated enough yet to think of these things, but we got through it without any problem.

SCARPINO: You have a picture in your new home of yourself with President Jimmy Carter.


SCARPINO: It was a picture that was taken when you served him in relationship to a crisis in the coal industry.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: Can you talk a little bit about that?

BOWEN: The coal miners had a strike and it was all over the country and not just in Indiana. And most of the states where they had strikes were… miners who controlled the politics of it. So in attempting to change that, the president called a meeting of the governors who had mining, and he got no place with it really because of the fact that the miners were all Democrats. And as you saw on the picture on my wall I was sitting next to President Carter and I was the token Republican at that because of the miners’ politics. After the meeting was over—I treasure this—President Carter kind of sneaked over to my side—well, before I get to that, our state is dependent about 98% on coal for our utilities and we were getting down to a very dangerously low supply of coal. It got to the point that if we wanted to keep our hospitals open and schools operating and other things like that we had to haul coal. So I called out the National Guard and utilized our state policemen, and we hauled coal, and we averted a real serious potential catastrophe. But anyhow, Carter sidled up to me and says, ‘Thank God somebody’s doing something.” Essentially that’s it.

SCARPINO: Was that a political risk for you to call out the National Guard?

BOWEN: I would say a certain amount of risk, yeah. But once people know the reasons for doing things, they’re pretty reasonable. And no, I didn’t have any real bad problem, except the miners themselves didn’t like it. But I had a letter from one, a miner’s wife, that says, “Thank you for getting this done and getting my husband out of this house.”

SCARPINO: (laughter) I want to read you a couple of lines from your book and get you to comment on it. I just noticed this as I was reading your book. You said, talking about being governor, you said, “Hindsight tells me that a governor must be a decisive problem-solver, have good character, and be willing to lead politically, governmentally, and symbolically.” How would you describe yourself as a decisive problem-solver, as a governor?

BOWEN: Well, I’m going to brag just a little bit here.

SCARPINO: You earned it.

BOWEN: A governor has to have determination and he has to be decisive and I think that’s one of the most important things; you’ve got to be decisive. You can’t hem or haw around on some of these things. Besides that he has to have a certain amount of candor and he has to be confident as well as compassionate and he also has to have the ability to know when to compromise on things and when to back down a little. He has to have a certain amount of power of persuasion, and he has to be reasonably clear on his expressions, and he has to appreciate people, and as I mentioned, tolerance and patience are necessary. A leader has to treat his superiors and subordinates equally. Otherwise, you’re in deep trouble.

SCARPINO: How do you do that? How do you treat your superiors and your subordinates equally?

BOWEN: Oh, I don’t know. I think I just part of your makeup.

SCARPINO: You also said in your book that a governor must lead by making decisions based on common sense tempered by compassion. Was that characteristic of your style; common sense tempered by compassion?

BOWEN: I would like to say it is, or was. Yeah.

SCARPINO: The final thing that struck me about what you said on those few pages was, you said that a governor must have the ability to lead symbolically, right?

BOWEN: He has to go around to meetings, more meetings, so many meetings that you couldn’t keep track of all of them. He has to get along with his party people and the Democrats and Republicans who you had to listen to, and I guess that’s one of the things we had in our campaign was, “He hears you.” At first I thought that was sort of a funny thing, but it turned out to be a good symbolic thing, that I will listen, and did listen.

SCARPINO: Do you think that it’s important for a leader to understand that he or she is a symbol?

BOWEN: Well, I was never approached on that.

SCARPINO: I mean, you clearly endeavored to exercise symbolic leadership while you were governor…

BOWEN: Yeah. Going out and meeting with people… you can accomplish that, symbolism, if you do it that way.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a few more of the standard questions that I gave you, and we’ve kind of covered this, but what do you think of the qualities that distinguish effective leadership? What qualities do effective leaders have?

BOWEN: Well, I think I’ve touched on some of that, but certainly they have to have a good sense of humor, and they have to be optimistic instead of pessimistic. And leading by example I think is important. A leader gives more than he gets and is willing to go the extra mile.

SCARPINO: I have a question I’m dying to ask you. You knew Richard Nixon?

BOWEN: Yes. I did not know him well.

SCARPINO: Was he optimistic as a person?

BOWEN: Gee, I don’t know.

SCARPINO: I mean it just popped into my head while you were talking

BOWEN: I really don’t know.

SCARPINO: Just curious. What criteria do you use to define successful leadership? How do you know it when you see it?

BOWEN: Well, I think by accomplishments is the main way. You had some questions in there on management versus leadership.

SCARPINO: Yes, I did. The question that you are looking at is the differences between leadership and management.

BOWEN: Leadership, I think you’re born with the ability to establish leadership, and that doesn’t mean that you are a leader. You’re born with it and then you have to exercise that expertise. And it differs from management insofar as leadership… leadership you’re born with, and management, you have to put this leadership to work in order to be a good manager.

SCARPINO: Do you think that a good leader has the ability to motivate or inspire people?

BOWEN: I think if he has the right attitude he can inspire people, but… help me out again there…

SCARPINO: The question that I asked you was, do you think it’s important for a leader to be able to motivate people or to inspire people?

BOWEN: It’s important, but if you’re not born with the stuff to do it… for example, I’m not a speaker who can get up there and shout and get all the people excited. I stay in the background a little bit more. So, I think it depends upon the individual himself whether he can inspire.

SCARPINO: How would you characterize or describe your style of leadership? What’s your personal leadership style?

BOWEN: Well, consensus building, by utilizing that symbolic trait.

SCARPINO: As you look back on your long career as a leader, what has worked well for you when it comes to your style of leadership? How has it served you well?

BOWEN: Well, because you get results when you utilize your leadership for it.

SCARPINO: Were there any parts of your leadership style that haven’t worked well for you? Anything you wish you could have changed or done differently?

BOWEN: In all honesty I can’t look back on anything and say I really wanted this changed. There were, I’m sure, minor things that came up that I was criticized for, but if there’s no criticism there’s no progress.

SCARPINO: Was it sometimes hard to listen to criticism?

BOWEN: Yeah, but you have to steel yourself for that. You have to recognize that there’s going to be criticism, irrespective of what you do and how you do it. You can’t please all the people and if you pleased all the people you wouldn’t be getting anything done.

SCARPINO: So do you think that a leader needs a thick skin to be successful?

BOWEN: He has to have tolerance and patience, and if that is thick-skinned, then so be it.

SCARPINO: As you look back on your career and think about leadership, was there a particular event or a particular incident that demonstrates your style of leadership?

BOWEN: Well, I think handling the prison riot would be one of the things. That you don’t just jump in and start mowing them down; you have to use some reasoning, and again here is where you can utilize a compromise a little if you can avoid it causing any undue harm.

SCARPINO: I don’t remember the year, but didn’t Governor Rockefeller in New York find himself in a very bloody situation in the prison riot?

BOWEN: Yeah, Attica.

SCARPINO: Attica, yeah.

BOWEN: Attica, yeah, I remember that.

SCARPINO: Was there a particular event or a particular crisis that helped you develop your view of leadership? A crisis or an event that you learned leadership lessons from?

BOWEN: Hauling coal probably is the outstanding one. This was an emergency; it had to be done, so you did it. And as I say, if people realize what the problem is, they’re pretty reasonable about putting up with a little problem.

SCARPINO: One more of our standard questions. Do you think leaders are born or made?

BOWEN: I think the leaders are born with the ability to become a leader, if that makes sense. Once they develop that leadership then they can be chosen as managers. So it goes, I think, from leadership to management then.

SCARPINO: After you left the office of governor, following the election in 1980, you served as a professor of medicine and director of undergraduate family practice education at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: What stands out for you as you look back on your service to Indiana University and the Medical Center?

BOWEN: Well, it was good to get back and practice a little medicine. I thoroughly enjoyed being a physician. I knew that having been out of medicine for about five years that I had to go slow and easy and catch up. I had a lot of catching up to do. So I was very, very conservative on my practice of medicine at the medical school until after a couple of years, I began to feel competent and able.

SCARPINO: Was it difficult to stay current as a physician while you were active as a politician?

BOWEN: Well, I really didn’t do a whole lot of politicking when I was at the medical school. I had to, as I say, go cautious on what I was doing and that included, number one, being able to take a good history of the case, and history in medical practice is just as important as examination. If you talk with a patient long enough, he will lead you to the diagnosis. The physical examination was another thing that I felt that I could be very competent in doing and then after three or four years I, or after a couple of years, I had gone into assisting some of the residents on deliveries and…

SCARPINO: And you were teaching at the medical center as well?


SCARPINO: Did you like to teach?

BOWEN: Yeah, I did. I had an interesting area to teach in. I taught in what’s gross pathology, that is, you’d have a lung just out here in the pan, and the student would study the anatomy of it. Also, with having seen what the diagnosis was, he or she was to try to relate what caused this person to die, and you would do that from the specimen that was out in front of you. So you could bring in just a little clinical work even though it was on the pathology.

SCARPINO: As you were talking, a question occurred to me. You went to medical school in the early years of World War II and here you were in the early 1980s teaching in a medical school, the same one you graduated from.

BOWEN: Right.

SCARPINO: What were the major changes that had taken place? I mean, I don’t want this to be too technical, but what were the big changes that took place?

BOWEN: Number one big change, I think, all above everything else, is the new medicines, new antibiotics, that tremendous change, and it all happened reasonably fast. In addition to that, there’s a lot of new devices that came along that improved the ability to get cures.

SCARPINO: I want to ask you one more question related to medicine, and then I just have a couple of more questions that we could wrap up. I’m a historian, obviously, and not a physician, but when I look back at the 1950s period when you were practicing medicine here, one of the things that stands out in my mind is polio and the polio vaccine. Did that have any impact on your practice or on your life as a physician?

BOWEN: It had a tremendous impact. Polio was, when we were interns at Memorial, the treatment on polio…there was no medicine to treat it but they did what, Mother Kenny—is that her name, from Australia—the heat packs that they put all over the individual, and iron lungs. Those were two things that way back in ’42 and ’43 they were using almost exclusively because they didn’t have anything else. The vaccine came out, actually two vaccines—the Salk and the Sabin—and that cut the rate of polio down to approaching as low as you could get. And we would… our three doctors would establish a day…people were anxious to get these shots. There’d be say 40 or 50 kids, just one after another, they would organize so that we’d have a little path where they could come and go. One of the interesting sidelines of that, out of I don’t know how many, maybe a couple hundred vaccines that we gave that day, there were only two patients that fainted. One was my daughter and the other was the daughter of a veterinarian.

SCARPINO: (laughter) Well, I fainted in the doctor’s office once, so. . .

BOWEN: I don’t know what that says, but that’s the way it happened.

SCARPINO: Well, late in 1985, President Ronald Reagan nominated you as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and you were quickly confirmed by the senate. You then served in President Reagan’s cabinet until he left office January 20, 1989. Why do you think President Reagan nominated you? What brought you to the president’s attention?

BOWEN: Well, Reagan was the governor of California at the same time, overlapping with my governor of Indiana, and so we had bumped into each other at meetings of the governors. That was one reason, and the other reason I think was that I was a physician, and at least you’d think that the job of Health and Human Services should go to a physician. So I think that was another reason.

SCARPINO: Did the Indiana senators have anything to do with bringing you to the president’s attention?

BOWEN: The other reason was that Senator Quayle put my name up for that job with the president, and apparently that had a little effect on who he was going to choose.

SCARPINO: Did you know Senator Quayle?

BOWEN: Oh, yes. I knew him. In fact, he worked for me when I was governor. He was working in the, I think, attorney general’s office.

SCARPINO: How would you describe Senator Quayle as a leader?

BOWEN: Well I think that he was competent and able, but the news media like to kill him, and he didn’t get a fair chance to show off how good he could be.

SCARPINO: How do you think he handled all that negative press?

BOWEN: He didn’t like it at all, and I don’t know that he did anything outrageous, but he got Hollywood upset, and that was Bergen, was it?

SCARPINO: Yeah, Candice Bergen. I mean I’ll just say for the record, I’ve read his book and spoken to him on the phone, and I just wondered what you thought about that situation.

BOWEN: Well, he was a decent, good man, but he was handicapped and handicapped badly by the press.

SCARPINO: As you look back on your career as a politician, is the role that the media plays one of the changes that’s taken place in the environment that a politician has to function in?

BOWEN: Yes. I think that the news media plays a big role in who’s going to be the next nominee. I think that they are that influential and they dwell on it so much that it has an effect.

SCARPINO: Do you think that the role that the media plays in our world has any impact on who’s successful as a leader and who isn’t?

BOWEN: Oh, I think it does. I don’t know that I can say why, but I don’t think. . .

SCARPINO: I’m wondering what you thought of Ronald Reason as a leader.

BOWEN: Ronald Reagan was a superb communicator. I can’t say that he did specific things that were so great. In fact, our debt went higher with him in office. But he was a splendid individual to know. I had to pinch myself many times, and realize here I am sitting right next to the president and he’s calling me by first name. That’s a little thrilling, and you could hardly believe it was happening.

SCARPINO: What was he like?

BOWEN: He was easy to know. He would speak to you. I don’t mean this as derogatory, but Nancy wasn’t quite as easy to know. I think the reason was that she was overly protective of him and again, rightfully so. He was shot at and almost died as a result. So she has a right to be very protective, but I think it hampered his activities sometimes. I think also, as I’m baring myself a little bit here, President Carter was not a delegator. President Reagan was a delegator probably more than he should have been. Carter was not a delegator. It’s told that he would even determine who would play tennis on the tennis courts and things like that. That was probably exaggerated, but if both of them would have delegated a little bit more, both of them would have been better in my opinion.

SCARPINO: I will also say for the record that I know that you did an oral history interview with, I think people from the University of South Carolina, when you stepped down from the cabinet.

BOWEN: No, Virginia.

SCARPINO: Virginia, and I’ve read that. It’s very lengthy and very detailed and we are going to cite that in the head notes of this interview, so I’m not going to go over all that, but I’m wondering what you think your accomplishments were as cabinet secretary—major accomplishments?

BOWEN: The major accomplishment was the passage of the Medicare catastrophic insurance bill. Sadly, the elderly old people had it repealed.


BOWEN: Well, it wasn’t only the AARP. This was Jimmy Roosevelt’s… he had a committee or a commission that he formed on his own and he…it was of the older people, older wealthy people, and he just put out some outright poor statements. He said that the older people were going to have to pay tremendous amounts more, when actually, with our bill, they would not have had to pay any more, but they would have to shift it a little bit and they could have utilized the. . .you’ll have to excuse me. Again, at my age I have a thought going and then it disappears for a little while.

SCARPINO: You’re doing great. You said that he, Roosevelt, Jimmy Roosevelt, had misrepresented what your bill actually would accomplish.

BOWEN: He excited the older people enough that they preyed on the congressmen to the point that Trunkowski, a lady who was of the social security age, of course, draped herself over the front of an automobile in a parade that he was in and that shook him up so much that he said, “The heck with it,” and nobody tried to save it. And again, that’s something that I kind of hold it against President Bush when he came into office. He did nothing to help save it, and had they kept it, you wouldn’t have had these last two or three years of real bad vicious activities in this situation.

SCARPINO: Now this is the first President Bush?

BOWEN: Yeah, the first President Bush. If he would have helped to keep it, the program, as I say, would have been very, very helpful especially in the drug territory.

SCARPINO: Why do you think he failed to act?

BOWEN: He was catering to the old people. And I like President Bush. I don’t want anybody to get me wrong on that, but I felt that he could have done more to save the Medicare catastrophic insurance.

SCARPINO: While you were serving in the cabinet, did you meet or work with any individuals who stood out as leaders?

BOWEN: I guess I have to mention my chief of staff who was a health economist and he was a great help to me in that, but when you come to… were you looking for specific bills, or…?

SCARPINO: No, you mentioned, for example, the way President Reagan stood out as a leader and I was wondering if, in your time as a cabinet secretary, if you ran into other people that really stood out as leaders?

BOWEN: Well, I guess the whole cabinet would have to be, just by definition, leaders. But there were three or four I think that were much more effective than others. I thought Shultz was an excellent Secretary of the State. I thought Cap Weinberger, even though he got a little off base at times, was a good Secretary of Defense. I thought Bill Brock was more understanding of the problems than most others, and that’s because he and I were the only two in the entire cabinet who had ever run for election. So he was more understanding of the problems, whereas some of these like Meese and Sprinkle, and so forth, they were just against everything, so I don’t want to praise them very much but those I did mention I think are worthy of the special. . .

SCARPINO: So you think it helped that you had a background in electoral politics?

BOWEN: Oh, yeah.

SCARPINO: During your term as cabinet secretary, were there any particular health issues or health crises that you had to deal with?

BOWEN: AIDS. AIDS just overwhelmed everybody and fortunately now it’s becoming a disease that is treatable. Not curable yet but eventually I hope that it is curable but it’s such that it’s now treatable. That would be the number one, that dominated a lot of it.

SCARPINO: I’m going to ask you a question now, and I hope I’m not leading the witness, but I read the interview you did with the University of Virginia and it’s 200 pages long. It’s very interesting. And it seemed to me that, as secretary, that while you personally appeared to be uncomfortable with the population that was likely to get AIDS, that you were way out in front on leading the recognition that it needed to be handled and handled seriously.

BOWEN: No credit for it, but we did. That was our number one thing.

SCARPINO: What did you do? How did you try to address that issue?

BOWEN: Money. In the early phase of it, I had to fight for every dollar we could get and that was far more too little to be as effective as we wanted it to be. I mentioned this Dr. Fauci a while ago and he is my hero as far as finding information that’s very usable for AIDS.

SCARPINO: Any other, besides HIV/AIDS, any other health crises that you had to deal with?

BOWEN: Well, other than. . .

SCARPINO: Was smoking still an issue?

BOWEN: Smoking was a big issue. We had a commission that was working like the dickens to help cut down on smoking. Of course drugs and alcohol were two other things that were big problems. And again, most of those required good budgets in order for them to be very effective.

SCARPINO: So part of your job was to fight for the budget to get the job done.

BOWEN: Right, right.

SCARPINO: Were you good at it?

BOWEN: Well, we made some progress, but it was difficult to handle some of these. I’ll give you a couple instances. It was my job to determine what procedures and medicines were to be used. We’re talking about heart transplants. We would not fund experimental procedures, and heart transplants were no longer at that time experimental. They were for real. You were getting them every day, they were being done. Three of my cohorts in the cabinet were anti- almost everything that cost a dime. Sprinkle, who was the economic adviser to the president, said, “Okay, if you want to do them, let’s do them on the kitchen table. We don’t have to, you know,” and the other one said. . . now let me get this straight. I’ll think of it in a minute. Go ahead.

SCARPINO: Okay. But the bottom line is that you were fighting for your share of the budget in order to affect…

BOWEN: Fighting for our share of the budget, yet. But I want to get that other piece in there that Sprinkle. . . oh, goodness.

SCARPINO: Maybe we can come back to it.

BOWEN: Okay.

SCARPINO: It did occur to me, though, as you mentioned heart transplants, that between the time you went to medical school and the time that you were a cabinet secretary, the changes in medicine must have been just astonishing. Did you ever look around and pinch yourself and just, you know, look in amazement at the things that it was possible for people to do by the 1980s? Put a new heart in somebody?

BOWEN: Well, there have been miracles. Of course, the artificial hearts have not…I mean, they tried to give them a go but that hasn’t worked at all yet. The other individual was Miller, who was the budget director, and Sprinkle and Meese, he didn’t have one of the quotes I want to get that he was an anti- everything also. I still haven’t. . .

SCARPINO: And Sprinkle was the one who said if you’re going to do the heart transplants why don’t just do them on the kitchen table?

BOWEN: Yeah.

SCARPINO: I mean, they were basically trying not to fund procedures.

BOWEN: Oh, yeah. That was the whole thing. I hope I think of that…

SCARPINO: I want to ask you one more question about leadership, and then we’ll probably wrap it up. Do you think that a person can be a great leader who has goals, or pursues goals or outcomes of questionable utility or morality? Were Adolph Hitler or Idi Amin leaders?

BOWEN: Oh, they were leaders but in the wrong way. In fact they were probably as strong a leader as you could get, but again, in the wrong way. We’ve had several examples of that in the last 25 or 30 years with Stalin and a half a dozen others.

SCARPINO: Is there anything that I should have asked you that I just didn’t have the insight to ask you? Anything you’d like to say?

BOWEN: I can’t think of any. You’ve covered it pretty well.

SCARPINO: As I said when we started we were just going to focus on the leadership part.

BOWEN: Okay.

SCARPINO: If you like we’ll send you a copy of the transcript.

BOWEN: Okay.

SCARPINO: And if you think of the rest of that story you can certainly share it with us and I’ll make sure that it gets in there.

BOWEN: Okay.

SCARPINO: Well, I would like to thank you very much for being gracious enough to sit through this interview and allowing me to come to your home. . . .

BOWEN: You’re very welcome.

SCARPINO: . . .and talk to you, and I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to visit with you for a few hours. Thank you very much.