Conlin became a fan and supporter of Glenn in the run up to the 1984 Iowa Caucuses. “After I ran for governor in 1982 I was speaking to many of those who were seeking the presidency, and I fell in love with John Glenn,” Conlin says.
Conlin says she really enjoyed working Glenn, who was then a U.S. Senator in Ohio, and his wife Annie. “He was a great pleasure to work with — we didn’t do well in the campaign — but we had a lot of fun and he was just a giant of a man in so many ways,” Conlin says. “I was disappointed that we didn’t do well in the Caucuses, but he went on to do other great things.”
Walter Mondale won the 1984 Iowa Democratic Caucuses and Glenn finished well behind in sixth place. Conlin says it didn’t phase the man who had been so successful at everything else. “John Glenn tended to always be successful, but frankly in terms of the effort to become the president, it didn’t seem to bother him too much. He offered himself, people said no, and he went right back to doing his job in the U.S. Senate,” Conlin says.
Glenn was an iconic figure from his days as an astronaut, but Conlin says he didn’t act like he was something special. “I saw that he was modest, that he was humble, that he was very much interested in speaking directly to the people of Iowa and the people of the United States,” Conlin says. “He was very approachable. Of course it was before too much Secret Service was around all the time, but he was very happy, as was Annie, to spend far more time than he should have with individual people who had individual problems and make an effort to solve them.”
Conlin says she kept in touch with Glenn over the years, but hadn’t spoken with him more recently as he had had a stroke. She says there is no doubt how Glenn will be remembered.
“I think he is a great American hero. What people sometimes forget is that when he got on that rocket to orbit the earth, it had never been used before and a lot of people though it wouldn’t work. And that he would die in the process. And his attitude toward that was pretty much: ‘Okay, fine,'” Conlin says.
Another Des Moines attorney, George Appleby, was working for Glenn’s rival Gary Hart when Hart ran into Glenn at an event. “It was an honor to meet him,” Appleby says. Appleby says “just like every American” of his generation, he remembers Glenn’s five-hour flight in 1962. Glenn circled the Earth three times in a small space capsule called Friendship 7.
“I was in high school then, but I associated him with all the youth and vigor of the Kennedy Brothers and, you know, that was a wonderful, wonderful exciting time before things got bad with Vietnam and that’s how I recall it and that’s how I recall him,” Appleby says. “He was such a national hero and, I think, in his personal life he was such a boy scout, which is very admirable.”
Glenn was the last surviving member of the Mercury Seven program after the death of Scott Carpenter in 2013. Glenn became the oldest person to fly into space in October of 1998 when he flew a mission on the Discovery Space Shuttle at age 77.
Radio Iowa’s O.Kay Henderson also contributed to this story.