We recently saw the passing of two public figures who left their marks on our region and served as examples for anyone in public service or in the service.
Evelyn Bowles was a World War II veteran, teacher, Madison County Clerk and Illinois state senator. Gen. Duane Cassidy was a Vietnam veteran, pilot, the first commander of the U.S. Transportation Command and later served on the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.
Bowles was 94 when she died Friday. She left teaching in 1951 because a county government job paid her $200 a year more.
In 1974 she ran against the wishes of the party bosses and became county clerk, a position she held until 1994. When the immensely popular state Sen. Sam Vadalabene passed, Bowles was an obvious pick to replace him. She was as honest, grounded and well-liked in Springfield as she was in Edwardsville.
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She also was a masterful politician, not for playing games, but for being straight with people and remembering it was her job to serve the public. She was an example to a generation of politicians: A successor said he solved issues by asking himself, “What would Evelyn do?” Madison County would be a better place had more leaders tried harder to follow that example.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of every year of every job I’ve had,” she said when retiring from the Senate in 2002. She continued serving her community by supporting a local scholarship and pursuing historic preservation.
Cassidy died from cancer at age 82 on Feb. 8. He was the son of a banker and first-grade teacher whose mom couldn’t punish him because he’d enjoy sitting in the corner pretending to fly. He was a C student but also a people person.
He served more than 35 years in the U.S. Air Force, rising from a navigator to a pilot, once stranded for two weeks on a South Pacific island, to the Saigon air spokesman during Vietnam and eventually becoming a four-star general. He was commander of the Military Airlift Command and the first to command the U.S. Transportation Command.
His impacts on Scott Air Force Base included his leadership at those commands as well as his influence as a BRAC commissioner along with former U.S. Sen. Alan Dixon in the 1990s. Scott came away stronger.
Cassidy considered this home, riding his bicycle across most of St. Clair County and claiming to have been bitten by most of the dogs. He did much better with people, he said as he was retiring from the Air Force in 1989.
“The relationships you establish with people are really what makes the world go ‘round,” said the man whose relationship with his wife lasted 61 years through 32 moves. “I don’t take myself too seriously. The key to everything — including government — is the relationships you establish.”