My "grandpa" Bowen
Two people equally rocked by grief found a great deal of companionship and comfort in each other in September of 1981. Their spouses of many years had been taken away too suddenly; they knew each other from a few decades of living in the same small northern Indiana town of Bremen.
One was my grandmother Rose, a beautiful country woman who insisted on neatness and order. The other, well, just happened to be the recent former governor of Indiana-"Doc" Bowen, our family doctor-turned legislator and governor. Together they made each other whole again and the grief visible in my grandmother's face turned to a smile as a sense of humor I don't know that I had ever known before became a part of her demeanor. And everything about her life changed quickly when she moved from the large ancestral farm house to a condo in Indianapolis, and then to Washington DC. While we missed having her near us, we became forever grateful to Doc for treating her so well.
I remember when I told my 6th grade teacher that my grandmother was going to marry the former governor. I already had an interest in politics before that time.....imagine how excited I was. When I transferred to a private school the following year I knew a few friends who also transferred and so the story was already out, though it seems that as I grew older during high school I talked about it only with my closer friends. And that was hard, given my growing interest in politics and Doc being thrown onto the national stage on Reagan's cabinet. By the time I graduated I had spent time with "grandpa" and grandma Bowen in Indianapolis, at IU games, a week with a buddy in DC at their home, until grandpa was the commencement speaker at my high school graduation.
Just a year before I began classes at Bethel College their new Bowen Library had been dedicated, complete with a small museum, bust of Doc in the lobby, and even a few items from my grandmother. This time, being a little wiser, I kept my connection to Doc to myself.....even as I would glance up at his name on the library while I passed it on the sidewalk talking with friends. And so it remained until my Senior year at Bethel-during which time Doc spoke during a special session on leadership at the college......and I had lunch with him and my grandmother afterward. And then people started to put 2 and 2 together.
I invited my grandparents to my college graduation in 1991. After the ceremony I looked and looked for them but didn't see them. The next day I learned that they had just discovered my grandmother had terminal cancer. The best prospects gave her three years. They had just relocated back to Bremen from DC several months before after Doc helped with the transition from the Reagan to Bush administration. Grandmother's cancer treatments proved unsuccessful and wore heavily on her. Feeling a strong desire to stay close to home, the application to Ball State's architecture program was pushed to the back in favor of Andrews'-only an hour from home.
During my first year at Andrews I followed the same closed-mouth policy concerning my "famous" grandfather. Grandma's health deteriorated quickly by the end of 1991 until I was praying she would just make it through Christmas. I came home every weekend and sometimes mid-week to visit with her if even just a short time to let Doc run errands into town. She made it through Christmas and died January 21st-the same day her father died years before. Grandpa Bowen was again rocked with grief, all too familiar with its sting from when his first wife passed away-also with cancer.
Doc found companionship again as our family's ties quickly faded. At Andrews, I found it less important to conceal what had been a significant part of my life. I think by my third year in the architecture program I was comfortable sharing this with friends. Besides, I was out-of-state and the Bowen name didn't ring as loudly across the border.
After I graduated from Andrews and returned to the area where the Bowen name rang the loudest, I went back to my closed-mouth policy except when asked. I continued to keep it to myself even as I began my own political career. It wasn't until I introduced Doc as the speaker for the mayor's prayer breakfast in 2005, two years after I had been elected to city council, that the connection was really "out there". After Andrews I reconnected with Doc on a few occasions, including breakfast with our family in March, 2011, just a month before he really began to struggle with his memory.
Yesterday I attended Doc's funeral. I was remembering him as the grandpa I knew during those formative years through junior high, high school and college. I remembered him like any other grandson would remember their grandfather, though it seemed like I had lost that part of my life more than 20 years ago. As I sat processing so much of what I knew about the man, both highs and lows, it became pretty evident to me that he left a mark on my life I can't shake. And so, if you will indulge me, I hope to unpack some of that in the coming posts.
I don't know that Indiana has ever had, nor will she have again, a public servant more dedicated to her people. Enter into your rest, good and faithful servant.