Ex-State Rep. H. Woods ‘Woody’ Bowman dies in Michigan car crash

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After a busy life of public service and academic postings, former State Rep. H. Woods “Woody” Bowman, 73, was enjoying a slower-paced life with his wife.

He was killed in a Michigan crash Friday as they headed to an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a museum he savored because he knew Detroit’s fiscal crisis had once raised the threat of auctions for its collections.

The accident also seriously injured his wife, Michele M. Thompson, a former secretary to the University of Illinois Board of Trustees. Michigan State Police say a 51-year-old California truck driver started the chain-reaction crash, and that he may have been distracted by firefighters in the median who were battling a brushfire.

Mr. Bowman, a professor emeritus at DePaul University, served from 1977 to 1990 as a Democratic state representative for the Evanston area. From 1990 to 1994, he was Cook County’s chief financial officer during the administration of County Board President Richard J. Phelan.

He was driving his Cadillac near the Mattawan exit on I-94, between Paw Paw and Kalamazoo, when it was rear-ended by the semi-truck. That driver, who is considered at fault, was also hospitalized for his injuries, Michigan State Police Sgt. Matthew Waters said.

Mr. Bowman’s Cadillac was pushed into another car, and then the semi hit another truck, Waters said. Mr. Bowman was pronounced dead at Bronson Methodist Hospital In Kalamazoo.

Initially, his wife was hospitalized in intensive care but she was later able to telephone DePaul, and she is scheduled to return to Illinois Tuesday via ambulance, said Robert Stokes, director of DePaul’s School of Public Service. The couple lived downtown.

At DePaul, the faculty “are all in shock,” Stokes said. Despite his emeritus status, Mr. Bowman remained active at the school. Though he hadn’t taught since 2012, he kept publishing, and he was often in the office, where other faculty members sought his advice. And he was part of a group that won a grant about three months ago to study the financial health of U.S. arts organizations, Stokes said.

Given his academic pedigree, it was remarkable that he opted for public service, Stokes said. Mr. Bowman could have earned more money in a scientific position or in high finance, he said.

In 1969, he earned a PhD in economics at Syracuse University. He also attained a master’s in Public Administration from Syracuse. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics from MIT in 1964, a year after he earned a bachelor’s in economics at MIT.

“He went from being sort of trained in municipal finance, and he kind of morphed that into studying what he loved, and that was cultural institutions, and specifically, nonprofit cultural institutions,” Stokes said.

The couple had planned to retire to Kansas City, Mo., but Chicago’s cultural offerings kept them here, he said. At the time of the accident, they were driving to an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Arts, a destination he treasured because its survival had once been threatened by that city’s bankruptcy, Stokes said. “He never got there,” he said.

In 2010, the couple celebrated 25 years of marriage, and he began scaling back his DePaul commitments as he looked forward to retirement, according to an MIT alumnae newsletter. He started studying German, an undertaking he said was “nicht leicht” (not easy), the newsletter said. They enjoyed rooting for the Fighting Illini and visiting museums, according to MIT.

Mr. Bowman was born in Charleston, W. Va., to an architect father who was originally from Chicago, according to an interview with David Edward Sims for an oral history project of the DePaul Emeritus Society.

His maternal grandfather was a chief justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and his great-uncle had been a state senator, he told Sims. One of his first exposures to a statehouse came when he served as an honorary page in the West Virginia State Senate. “I remember being fascinated [by] the brass spittoons that were on the floor on the side of every desk,” he said.

Calling him a “fixture in Illinois politics and government for decades,” County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said she was saddened by his death. “He served with integrity,” she said in a statement. After leaving politics, “he remained committed to Cook County, serving most recently as a member of my task force on unincorporated areas.”

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan said Mr. Bowman “served with great distinction,” in the legislature, according to his spokesman, Steve Brown, “and was responsible for a number of the more modern fiscal policies the legislature put in place.”

Prior to his political career, Mr. Bowman was an assistant professor of economics at UIC and a research economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago.

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