Marion Conlin: The eternal learner

Marion Conlin

Hilton Head Islander Marion Conlin has worn many hats. She’s a Cordon Bleu-trained chef and the author of a cookbook. She’s the former program director of World Affairs Council of Hilton Head. And, even at nearly 90 years old, she’s not slowing down.

Conlin says her travels and experiences have helped shape her global perspective — but she credits her mother and her first-grade teacher with sparking her curiosity about the world.

“She taught me the eternal love of learning,” Conlin says of her teacher. “And my fabulous mother taught me to live with self-confidence. Whenever I’d ask her what to do about something, she’d say, ‘You’ll make the right decision.’ Even today when I face a decision, I consider all the angles. She gave me the confidence to do so.”

Those critical thinking skills served her well as program director of the 900-member World Affairs Council, where she planned lectures by world-renown figures.

She says that in her lifetime, she believes the two greatest statesmen are former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.

“Clinton brought the woman’s touch to issues that required good brainpower and good heart,” she says. “I also liked Zbigniew Brzezinski. He has objective sense about hard, controversial issues and steers away from politics … Statesmanship is a craft, not a political appointment. It should be based on the knowledge and understanding of foreign affairs and the skill to balance powers to accomplish good, not world domination.”

But Conlin says the U.S. should not try to accomplish good by becoming the world’s police force.

“I’d like to see us exercise compassionate leadership,” she says. “If I could give one piece of advice to the president, I’d say to avoid reacting to issues militarily. The next president needs to practice more equanimity — the ability to foster cohesion in our executive and legislative branches and foreign affairs.”

Conlin’s time abroad also helped influence her take on foreign affairs. She studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, a treat for a woman who grew up making do with what she had during the Great Depression.

“I grew up in the Depression era; we had to be resourceful,” she says. “My family had a garden. I picked my own vegetables and made my own vegetable soup and fell in love with cooking.”

Of all the countries she has visited in her lifetime, Conlin says she would most like to return to France, where “there’s always something to do or see.”

“The last time I saw Paris in 2010,” Conlin said, “my biggest joy was taking the river taxi down the Seine. You can go all the way from the Eiffel Tower to the Cathedral of Notre Dame and beyond.”

Conlin, who remarried this year, says she always tries to appreciate everything life gives her.

“Gratitude is the best system of living,” she says. “If the situation looks grim, remember something you’re grateful for. This will turn your head around.”