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Paul Conn, helped develop astronaut breathing unit

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June 13, 1923—Aug. 21, 2009

Paul J. Conn, a chemist and inventor who helped develop the breathing apparatus used by astronaut John Glenn on the first U. S. orbital flight into space, died Friday in Hospice Buffalo, Cheektowaga, following a brief illness. He was 86.

Mr. Conn was born in Buffalo and studied chemistry at the University of Buffalo. After graduating, he worked in the electroplating industry, developing many new plating processes.

In 1956, he began working for S. A. Day Manufacturing on Niagara Street. He started out in the sales department. In 1963, he became vice president. In 1975, he was named executive vice president and, in 1984, became president and retired as president of the company in 2004.

During his time at Day, he was responsible for the development of many products used in the automotive industry to bond automobile radiators, heaters and air-conditioning units. He has nine patents to his name, sold his products in 39 countries, and in the 1980s ran what was then the only full-service chemical lab for DuPont east of the Mississippi.

Mr. Conn was especially proud of his work with NASA. He helped develop the breathing apparatus for Glenn’s Project Mercury flight. When he met the astronaut at the 25th anniversary celebration of the historic event, Glenn shook Mr. Conn’s hand and said: “I want to tell you: It worked.”

He was honored with many awards over the years. In 1991, the National Automotive Radiator Service Association honored him with the International Award for Outstanding Contribution. The same group honored him with the Paul Shapiro Patron Award in 2001 for outstanding support and enlightened leadership.

In 2005, the Mobile Air-Conditioning Society Worldwide honored Mr. Conn at a luncheon in Las Vegas, and presented him with the Industry Innovations Career Achievement Award for his contributions to the industry through the development of new tools and technology.

Mr. Conn helped found the West River Homeowners Association on Grand Island. He liked to point out that he was a descendant of a king of Ireland.

Mr. Conn was a 33rd degree Mason and a member of the fraternal organization for more than 50 years. He also was a member of the Royal Order of Jesters.

Mr. Conn is survived by his wife of 23 years, the former Anna Parenti; a son, Gregory; a daughter, Laurie Lazik; a sister, Eileen Reed; and a brother, Joseph.

Services will be held at 10 a. m. Monday in Lester H. Wedekindt Funeral Home, 3290 Delaware Ave., Kenmore.