21 May 2013

Bowen: less politics, more service

One of my favorite pictures, though maybe a little politically-charged today, with my buddy Dan and Doc at FBI headquarters in 1986.
A few days before Doc Bowen's memorial service his confidential secretary during his time at Health and Human Services and I reconnected on Facebook.  I had met Kim when a buddy and I spent a week in DC with Doc and my grandmother.  I mentioned to Kim that I recalled her once commenting that she and other staff would be a little frustrated with Doc because he would slip out of his office and make his own copies.  Cabinet members just didn't do that kind of thing.

Other similar stories about Doc's servant-approach began to surface at his memorial service, but I don't know that any really surprised anyone.  The most telling of his character was during his time as governor when he personally shovelled out the driveway of a Meridian Street resident who had called and complained that a snow plow had closed off her drive.  This servant heart was always evident at our family functions when we found that he was always the first to step up to the kitchen sink and wash dishes.  Always.  And seemed a bit insulted if you suggested that he relax in the living room.

I also recall from my trip to DC the number of specially-organized tours he arranged for my buddy and me.  We got a tour of the FBI and FDA (you can imagine which we thought was more entertaining), as well as special tours of the Capitol building and the White House.  Doc personally escorted us on the White House tour, a behind the scenes look at the west wing.  After we were dropped off by the driver we were able to see the Oval Office and Cabinet Room, unfortunately President Reagan was gone at the time, but then while waiting to be picked up Doc shifted us into the standard public tour which I doubted many cabinet members would walk through with the masses.  But that was Doc, he thought nothing of it, nor did he see the need to have his security detail with him.

But maybe the memory that I recall had the most profound affect on me was from an IU game where I saw him interact with Ryan White.  I retold that story when I introduced him as the speaker at a prayer breakfast in River City a few years ago.  I shared this story before on this post.  There are many other stories, but they would all point to the qualities that stood out to the people he met:  humility and servant.  Doc was a reminder to all of the scripture "the first shall be last".  While we should hope that this is a common trait among our elected officials or "public servants", it seems deficient in mainstream politics today.  Doc may have been an exceptional example, but we should expect some level of humility and a life that reflects service to the public beyond the mere "representational" role.

As Doc's memorial service concluded and the procession to the cemetery began, my family stood among the many elected officials who had come to pay their last respects, including our current and several former governors and legislators.  As we stood there I questioned to myself, in this political age is it even possible to elect someone like Doc?  I'm tired of the self-absorbed, self-serving politicians who are more beholding to their parties than they are people.  It is a rare, and probably short-lived career, to see an elected official put people before politics.  But I think that's because so many people elected to office today never truly "served" by nature of their own character, not by job, position, or title.

Doc continued to truly serve despite his title.  This is probably what has left the most profound mark on me and may cause me to have unfair expectations of myself and others.  It is a high mark to reach for, but shouldn't we all strive for this more in our lives?  The country would be a much better place if we had a lot of Doc's running around.

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