Chester Bowles, 85, a former ambassador, governor, congressman, undersecretary of state and adviser to four presidents who personified the liberal wing of the Democratic Party in the 1950s and 1960s, died May 25 at his home in Essex, Conn., after a stroke. He had Parkinson's disease.
He twice served as ambassador to India, from 1951 to 1953 and again from 1963 to 1969. He served as governor of Connecticut from 1949 to 1951, and was a member of the House of Representatives and its Foreign Affairs Committee from 1959 to 1961. He was undersecretary of state for 10 stormy months in 1961.
Gov. Bowles also was a best-selling author, a self-made millionaire, an eloquent voice for the downtrodden, and a man of unending ideas. A former advertising company board chairman, he spent a lifetime selling America his faith in the theory that its national destiny was to triumph over its problems, however large.
Gov. Bowles is remembered by many as a champion of civil rights and for his profound belief in the possibility of promoting democracy, peace and the national interest through the United Nations. While ever suspicious of the Soviet Union, he also was skeptical of the effectiveness of military aid and alliances. He championed foreign aid and saw the battlefield of the future to be the minds of people in emerging nations. He often stressed the importance of nations such as India, where he saw the primary U.S. task as "selling" democracy and convincing the world that it -- not communism -- was the wave of the future.
By the late 1950s, his interests seemed largely centered on foreign policy. His friend, two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, said that Gov. Bowles "hungered" for the post of secretary of state. Entering the 1960 election year, Gov. Bowles announced that he would not seek reelection to the House but would serve as the chief foreign policy adviser to presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.).
After Kennedy's election, Gov. Bowles was named undersecretary of state, the department's number two position. He recruited enthusiastic if somewhat unorthodox persons to serve in high diplomatic posts, and did not seem to mesh well with Secretary of State Dean Rusk.
An example of policy disagreements included the proposed Bay of Pigs invasion. As soon as he learned of it, Gov. Bowles, almost alone in the administration, spoke out against the operation in government councils. Designed to overthrow Cuba's Fidel Castro through the support of an invasion by Cuban exiles, the operation ended in total failure and disaster. He also opposed an American military presence in Vietnam.
In November 1961, it was announced that Gov. Bowles was stepping down as undersecretary and would become a special presidential representative for Asian, African and Latin American affairs. He held that post until returning to India as ambassador in 1963.
It was probably his tours in India that brought him his greatest satisfaction. He once wrote that he believed India was the key to Asia's future: If democracy worked there, the example could save all noncommunist Asia from going communist.
During both tours, he was an indefatigable salesman of democracy, America and social progress. He also cultivated a common touch. Gov. Bowles dressed informally, his wife wore saris at dinner parties, and his children bicycled to public school in New Delhi, where they learned Hindi in tents under a hot sun.
His second tour as ambassador proved a difficult time for both India and its relations with this country. Gov. Bowles helped engineer the shipment of some 26 million tons of American grain following a crop shortage, he served ably during the 1965 Kashmir war between India and Pakistan when this country was walking a diplomatic tightrope between the two combatants, and he did his best to combat a growing anti-Americanism fueled by U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia. He also managed to spirit Svetlana Alleluyeva, the daughter of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, out of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, where she had sought asylum.
Gov. Bowles was diagnosed as having Parkinson's disease while still in New Delhi. But he continued to serve as ambassador until the change of administrations in 1969.
Chester Bliss Bowles was born in Springfield, Mass., on April 5, 1901. He attended Choate School in Wallingford, Conn., and was a 1924 graduate of Yale Univeristy's Sheffield Scientific School. After spending a year as a reporter with the Springfield Republican, a newspaper founded by a grandfather, he traveled to New York, where he took a $25-a-week job as copywriter with what became the advertising firm of Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn.
In 1930, he and William Benton founded the firm of Benton & Bowles, with Benton as the salesman and Gov. Bowles as the idea man. The firm specialized in consumer market research and pioneered singing commercials for radio. Their accounts included General Foods, Procter & Gamble, and Bristol Myers. When he stepped down as chairman in 1941, Gov. Bowles was earning about $250,000 a year.
He began his political career in 1940 as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. Also before World War II, he was a director of America First, a citizens organization that was a leading isolationist voice. Gov. Bowles said that while he was not an isolationist, he believed that strict neutrality would enhance this country's ability to aid international understanding after the war.
When war broke out, he was appointed rationing administrator of the state of Connecticut by Gov. Robert A. Hurley. He then became state director of the Office of Price Administration. In July 1943 he was called to Washington, where he became OPA general manager. He became its head about three months later.
The job was an enormously important, if thankless and unglamorous, one. Basically, he was in charge of price and wage controls for a country at war. He administered a bureaucracy of some 70,000 employes and convinced Capitol Hill and the nation of the need for controls and the importance of fighting inflation.
As a brilliantly successful advertising executive, he knew how to use the press and radio, and was seemingly tireless in campaigning for his causes. His business experience also served to illustrate that someone who "had met a payroll" was running an economic operation for President Roosevelt. After the war, he spent a short time as President Truman's director of economic stabilization before leaving government service in 1946.
In 1948, he won election as governor of Connecticut, defeating Thomas Dodd for the Democratic nomination, then edging incumbent Republican Gov. James C. Shannon by a margin of about 2,200 votes out of more than 860,000 votes cast. During his two-year term as governor, he scored notable successes in tax reform, housing, welfare and child care. He also integrated the state National Guard and saw the powers of the state Interracial Commission expanded to enable it to study housing discrimination complaints. In 1950, he was defeated for reelection by Republican John Davis Lodge.
Gov. Bowles was the author of several well-received books, including "Ambassador's Report," a 1954 work telling of his first tour in India that was on the best-seller lists for five months. Other books included "American Politics in a Revolutionary World" and "Africa's Challenge to America." "Promises to Keep," a volume of memoirs, was published when he was 70.
His first marriage, to the former Julia Mayo Fisk, ended in divorce.
Survivors include his wife of 53 years, the former Dorothy Stebbins of Essex; five children, 13 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.