Cowan noted Wednesday that his mother, who is recuperating in North Carolina after knee-replacement surgery, was a child of the segregated South who raised him and his sisters alone after his father died when Cowan was a teen.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday that he believes President Obama will be encouraged by the appointment of Cowan, along with a record number of female senators, "because he believes that diversity adds to the quality of debate."
In the days leading up to the selection, Patrick said that he would consider diversity in his choice of interim senator. He had also insisted that the interim appointment be someone with no interest in holding the job permanently, and Cowan went further on Wednesday by saying he had no intention of running for any elected office in the future.
"This is going to be a very short political career," he joked.
Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Barney Frank, who recently retired after more than three decades in the House, had been the only person to publicly express interest in the interim post and Patrick had acknowledged that Frank was among those he had considered.
Wednesday was the second time that Patrick has selected an interim U.S. senator. In 2009, following the death of Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patrick named Paul Kirk, a Democratic party operative and Kennedy family friend, to serve until a January 2010 special election that was won by Republican Scott Brown.
Under Massachusetts law prior to 2004, governors appointed a senator to serve until the next regularly scheduled state election. The Democratic-controlled Legislature changed the law after Kerry became the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee to block then-Gov. Mitt Romney from appointing a Republican in case Kerry won the election.
Brown, who lost his re-election bid to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in November, is "leaning strongly" toward running in the upcoming special election, according to Republican officials who spoke to the Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share internal discussions.
Two Democratic congressmen, Edward Markey, of Malden, and Stephen Lynch, of Boston, are expected to formally enter the race in the coming days. Kerry is among several leading Democrats who are backing Markey.
Kerry's resignation from the Senate takes effect Friday, making Warren the state's senior senator despite having been in the Senate for only a few short weeks herself.