Juneau’s oldest legislator reflects on a life of public service

  • By MIKE COPPOCK
  • Saturday, March 29, 2014 10:14pm
  • News

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Bob Lynn is spry for a man of 81. He easily — and daily during the session — scales the five flights of steps at the state Capitol.

“I don’t feel old,” said Lynn, a former U.S. Air Force fighter pilot in the 1950s who also served in the Vietnam War at a radar installation. “I don’t know what happened.”

The Republican legislator from Anchorage’s lower Hillside is the oldest legislator in Alaska statehood history, according to Legislative Research.

Lynn is running for re-election at an age when most people have retired. So far he is running unopposed.

“I enjoy public service,” Lynn said.

State Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, who at 75 is Alaska’s oldest current state senator, said he and Lynn are “are charter members of the old geezer caucus.” Dyson is not seeking re-election this year, though.

Lynn has “done a lot of things in his life that brings a rounded background here,” said House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski. “A lot of people when they come here have only experienced one thing all their lives — like politics.”

Since he’s been in office for 12 years, many might think of Lynn as a longtime resident of Alaska.

But the California native has only lived in Alaska since 1995, and he calls his relocation north as a milestone in his life.

“It was the single smartest thing I ever did,” Lynn said. “This is a land of opportunity.”

Disgusted with California congestion and smog, Lynn and his wife decided to move to Alaska after spending several vacations in the Last Frontier. He was able to enter the very same professions he enjoyed in California: as a special education teacher and working in real estate.

Graduating from high school on Los Angeles’ east side, he elbowed his way onto film sets as an extra in three movies and beat Debbie Reynolds in a baton-twirling contest.

He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1951 during the Korean War, earning his pilot wings at age 20. For three years, he flew F94C Starfire fighter-interceptors on peace time missions.

Joining the Air Force Reserve in 1956, he was a Tucson. Ariz., policeman, a mortician’s assistant and an ambulance driver while working on his elementary teaching degree from the University of Arizona.

He was teaching elementary school in California when the Air Force recalled him in 1962. He worked as an Air Force air traffic controller during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

His first taste of Alaska came when the Air Force sent him to Kotzebue Air Force Station’s radar site in 1964, 10 days after the Good Friday Earthquake. He found himself commanding a radar site in Vietnam when the cease fire was declared in 1973.

After the Vietnam War, the Air Force sent him to Thailand and Germany before he retired as a major in 1976.

Settling down in California, he served on Moreno Valley’s first city council. He was selected as the town’s mayor pro-tem. He also found a love — being a member of a German oompah band.

Married close to 61 years, Lynn and his wife, Marlene, have six children, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Comparing the Legislature today with when he first arrived, he sees a definite difference.

“I believe there is currently more camaraderie here than when I first arrived,” Lynn said. But he believes the Legislature is still falling into the same trap he saw when he first arrived over a decade ago.

“I think sometimes we are in an aquarium down here,” warns Lynn. “We are too isolated. We need to remember we are working for the people, and we try to, but the isolation here causes us only to interact with each other at times.”

House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt of Anchorage says it is Lynn’s life experiences and sharp wit that has made him valuable to the Legislature.

Minority Leader Chris Tuck of Anchorage agreed.

“Bob is the grandpa of the legislature and with that he has a unique angle on resolutions,” Tuck said. But more to the point, says Chenault: “He’s a straight shooter.

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