Otis R. Bowen, a small-town family doctor who overhauled Indiana’s tax system as governor before helping promote safe sex practices in the early years of AIDS as the top federal health official under President Ronald Reagan, died Saturday. He was 95.
In a statement Sunday, Gov. Mike Pence said Bowen died Saturday at the Catherine Kasper Life Center, a nursing home in Donaldson, about 25 miles south of South Bend and near Bowen’s hometown of Bremen. He did not 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,” said Pence, who also expressed his sympathies to Bowen’s children and grandchildren.
Bowen, known among Hoosiers for decades as “Doc,” was a doctor in the northern Indiana town of Bremen when he first was elected to office in 1952 as Marshall County coroner, starting a political rise that saw him become a wildly popular Republican governor during 1973-81.
He became secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1985, taking charge of the federal government’s response to the spread of AIDS after the Reagan administration had been criticized by activists for a slow initial response.
Bowen promoted public awareness of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases and worked with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on the mailing to 107 million households of a pamphlet with explicit advice on how to avoid the AIDS virus, including using condoms.
During a 1987 news conference, Bowen gave a bit of advice that entered the national lexicon: “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.”