A College Friend Comes to Town

Ruth and Tom Harkin (a photo from their 2018 holiday card.)

A week ago Friday, I met with an old friend, Tom Harkin. I also met, for the first time, his wife, Ruth.

I originally knew Tom at Iowa State University a long time ago. He was on an N.R.O.T.C. scholarship and became active in Democratic politics; I was a journalism student. I wrote about Tom for the Iowa State Daily, probably one of the first stories written about him.

After college, Tom became a pilot for the Navy, served in Viet Nam, went to law school, married Ruth (also a lawyer) and returned to Iowa. He served in Congress for 10 years and then in the Senate for 30 years.

I kept in contact with the Harkins via holiday cards. I saw that the Harkins had two daughters and now have grandchildren. I knew Tom was a sponsor and “stem-winder” with regard to the Americans With Disabilities Act. He was briefly a candidate for President and later endorsed Bill Clinton.

I last saw Tom about seven years ago when he was in town speaking at a convention. Before that, 35 or so years ago, a group of us from S&C Electric Company went to Washington for a conference. I had written to Tom’s office to say we were coming to Washington, and he invited us for lunch in the Senate lunch room. Tom was so charming that day, my colleagues (including the Republican owner of our company) were temporarily Democrats.

So time marches on. I read that Tom had announced his retirement from the Senate…and I guess that happened. Then, two weeks ago I got an email from “Tom Harkin”. Really? He said he and his wife were coming to Las Vegas to attend Harry Reid’s 80th birthday celebration (Harry was 80 December 2) and Tom wondered if we could get together. I was shocked to hear from him…but OK, let’s get together.

We emailed back and forth and finally decided that Friday night Dec. 6 would be a good time to get together. I recommended the show, Le Reve, at Wynn Las Vegas and agreed to get tickets. We’d have a drink before the show and a snack after.

Admittedly, I was excited and somewhat anxious about my date with the Harkins. The years have done their tricks and my resume does not measure up to theirs. (Ruth Harkin had also held a number of important jobs in Iowa and Washington.)

The Iowa State Daily 1962.
Article written by Diane Taylor about Tom Harkin.

But I needn’t have worried. Ruth was so immediately friendly, I felt I’d known her a long time, and Tom was all smiles and full of good feelings as well.

We had drinks in the outdoor portion of The Wynn’s Parasol Down lounge, saw the show and had small eats at the Wynn’s Allegra Italian Restaurant. The Harkins loved the show…and I heard Tom say “spectacular” several times.

I gathered in subsequent conversations that the Harkins had never spent much time in and around casinos. When I explained that the Le Reve tickets were “comp” tickets because I gamble at the Wynn every Monday and was lucky enough to be given the tickets, the Harkins seemed completely in awe. When Tom asked me how much the tickets were worth, I gave him a big number equal to our gambling losses at the Wynn. Smiles all around.

As we exchanged stories, Tom took out his phone to show me pictures of the once lovely home the couple owned in the Bahamas. Hurricane damage had literally leveled the home, thankfully not while the Harkins were visiting. They are contemplating next steps with the property.

The Harkins also told me about their 50th wedding anniversary, celebrated with family at the same shrine in Tokyo where they had originally met in 1967.

Me? I talked about my dog eating dental floss, the entertainers that keep me out of trouble a couple times a week and how many folks in Las Vegas are grateful for disabled wash rooms, parking for the disabled, ramps, etc. When I mentioned Clint Holmes’ name (a favorite entertainer), I noticed Tom googling the name and telling ME that Clint Holmes had only one hit record…etc. I laughed.

When the night ended, I was glad Harry Reid had had a birthday. I reconnected with a friend from long ago…and what a nice time we had.

PS: I have no pictures from Friday night. Our evening wasn’t that kind of get-together. Friends had drinks, dinner and a show…really no big deal (except for this story).


7 responses on “A College Friend Comes to Town

  1. What a great story and wonderful reconnection.
    But, hey! We don’t care that Clint Holmes had only one hit. To quote Clint: “how many hits have you had?” Two thumbs up

  2. Great story, Diane. I really enjoyed it and I agree with Libby about Clint’s one hit. It might only be one but it was a fantastic one. I love “Playground in my Mind”.

  3. A nice recap of a really nice evening together! I didn’t realize it had been 7 years since I was last in LV! Also knew you and Ruth would hit it off-both strong willed persons with great writing ability not afraid to say what you think! Hope we see you before another 7 years! You know the old saw: at our ages we don’t buy green bananas!

  4. Really enjoyed reading this article, Diane! Glad you were able to get together. I have always had the utmost respect for Senator Harkin. They don’t make them like him any more, unfortunately.

  5. Still waiting for my freshman roommate in college to come to town. Haven’t seen him
    since 1963. We text and talk and reminisce. Not famous, but such memories. Glad you
    shared the memory.

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