Former US Representative Berkley Bedell died on December 7, 2019, at age 98, following complications from a stroke. Bedell championed the use of alternative medicine and worked with Senator Thomas Harkin to introduce a bill in 1991 that established the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) at the US National Institutes of Health. The office is now known as the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH).
Bedell was born on March 5, 1921, in Spirit Lake, Iowa. As a teenager, he earned money tying and selling fishing flies and tackle. Eventually, he rented an attic office space to expand his fledgling business, which he called Berkley and Co. Bedell attended Iowa State University from 1940 to 1942, and then enlisted and served in the army during World War II as a first lieutenant and flight instructor. After the war, he re-started Berkley and Co., which expanded rapidly, employing more than 800 people by the time he sold the business to his children in 1984. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson bestowed the first “Small Businessman of the Year” award to Bedell.
Bedell’s political career began in 1974, when he was elected as a Democrat representative of Iowa’s sixth congressional district. He served in the House of Representatives for 12 years, focusing on issues that were important to his largely rural constituency, such as agricultural production controls, waterway usage, and small business protections. In 1986, he contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite and did not seek re-election due to related health problems. Exploring treatment options for his chronic disease brought him into contact with alternative therapies, and this would mark the beginning of his advocacy for complementary and integrative medicine.
Despite his illness and retirement, Bedell remained active in the political sphere as a lobbyist. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment was the formation of the OAM. With an initial budget of $2 million in 1992, the OAM funded research on complementary and alternative medicine, including clinical trials, and also promoted and funded training, outreach, and career development in these areas. In 1998, the office was elevated to a center with an increased budget, then called the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine; the name was changed to NCCIH in 2014. For the fiscal year 2020, NCCIH was granted $151.9 million to continue and expand its work.
Bedell served on the advisory board of the OAM and continued to support alternative medicine research by co-founding the National Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine with his wife, Elinor Healy Bedell, in 1998. The organization later changed its name to the Foundation for Alternative and Integrative Medicine in 2009 to reflect its global reach and goals. Bedell hoped to identify and validate cost-effective traditional treatments, so that the greatest number of people around the world could enjoy good health and wellness.
Bedell continued his political activism until his death, campaigning for Democratic candidates and advocating for increased voter turnout among youth, ways to battle climate change, and reducing student loan debt. He was also active in many private endeavors, including his local church and school board, and as a Boy Scout troop leader. Additionally, he served as the president of the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association and the Iowa Manufacturing Association (now called the Iowa Association of Business and Industry), and on the Board of Trustees of Morningside College, American University, and Claremont School of Theology. In 1998, Bedell and Elinor donated 80 acres of land to create the Elinor Bedell State Park in his hometown of Spirit Lake. He was inducted into the Iowa Business Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame in 2018.
Berkley Bedell is survived by his children, Ken Bedell (Kathie) of Westminster, Colorado, Tom Bedell (Molly) of Bend, Oregon, and Joanne Quinn (Mike) of Loveland, Colorado; eight grandchildren; and 12 great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by Elinor, his wife of 73 years, who died in 2017; his brother, Jack Bedell; and his parents, Virginia and Walter Bedell. A memorial celebration is planned for July 2020 in Spirit Lake.